Ching Ming Festival is one of China’s largest events based off of the lunar calendar. Ching Ming officially starts 104 days after the winter solstice. The festival usually begins on April 4th or 5th, but activities may start as early as 10 days prior.
The primary role of the Ching Ming Festival is to pay respect to ancestors. While many Chinese holidays are oriented around ancestor worship, Ching Ming is the largest. Filial piety is a central aspect of traditional Chinese culture, so it should come as no surprise that this is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the Middle Kingdom. Nearly every ethnic group in China celebrates Ching Ming in one way or another. Ching Ming is also a celebration of spring because of the incoming planting season in most of China.
According to Chinese stories and folklore, the Ching Ming Festival got its start sometime between 700 and 500 BCE. Legend states that a man named Jie Zitui, a loyal servant of a Chinese lord, helped his lord survive through exile. In order to prevent his lord from starving to death, Jie cut meat from his own leg and fed it to his lord. Surviving this ordeal, the lord returned to power 19 years later.
By this time, the lord had forgotten about Jie’s service. Sometime later, the lord remembered Jie and felt regretful about forgetting. The lord intended to reward Jie, but by the time he found him, Jie had passed away. To honor the life and death of Jie, the lord established Ching Ming as a holiday to commemorate the dead.
During the Ching Ming Festival, there are various customs and traditions that people take part in. One of the most enjoyed festival activities is kite flying. During the day, people fly kites of various colors to celebrate spring. People also celebrate the holiday with kites in the evening, but small lanterns are attached. When hundreds of kites are in the air, the Chinese sky looks like it is filled with many stars. The kites are symbolic of good fortune, but according to legend, they are also said to be able to cure and prevent diseases.
In accordance with the Ching Ming Festival’s tradition of ancestor worship, an activity known as tomb sweeping is an important part of the festival day or the 10 days leading up to it. The purpose of this activity is to clean and beautify the graves or urns of ancestors. Weeds will removed from grave plots and fresh dirt will be brought to the surface. In many cases, people will also offer their ancestors their favorite food and wine as tribute.
Incense and flowers may also be brought as a show of respect. There are many varieties of flowers that can be used during this holiday, but peach blossom and chrysanthemum flowers are among the most popular. In cities, the process of honoring the dead is not as elaborate due to the practice of cremation in place of traditional burials. In all cases, good prayers are said for ancestors and deceased relatives.
After paying respects to ancestors, many Chinese take part in a spring outing, or taqing (踏青), to enjoy the warm weather and company of friends. The first spring outing occurred during the Tang Dynasty and it has become a time of celebration ever since.
In order to get exercise and experience nature, many Chinese people will go on a trip to a city center or natural area. Popular activities include seeing gardens, walking through parks with family members, hiking through natural areas, and participating in sports. The spring outing is meant to promote happiness and good health habits after commemorating ancestors.
As with most great festivals, Ching Ming offers a wide selection of special cuisine to celebrate happiness. One of the favorite dishes of Ching Ming is sazi (撒子). Sazi is fried wheat or rice flour that has been bound with eggs, onion, sesame, or other ingredients. The exact recipe for sazi depends on region and the chef. This is a salty or savory food that is enjoyed throughout China.
Snails that have been seasoned with onion and salt are also a favorite dish during the Ching Ming Festival. To specifically celebrate the spring outing and warm months, Chinese people also enjoy qingtuan (青团), or green dumplings. These dumplings resemble green apples and are made of rice powder, green vegetable juice, and sweetened bean paste. Qingtuan have a sweet taste and are green. Some Chinese chefs also create their own unique variations of this dish.