The Chinese Clear and Bright Festival

light and color of lampWhen the western Easter holiday is almost over, the Chinese are about to embrace The Clear and Bright Festival (Qing Ming Jie), which normally falls on the 4th or 5th of April, and lasts up to twenty days.

The Clear and Bright Festival is when Chinese people visit the columbarium, graves or burial grounds to pray to the ancestors.

Origins of the festival

During the Spring and Autumn period (770 BC – 221 BC), Chong Er, the Prince of Jin had been running away from the traitors when his retainer Jie Zi Tui, who had loyally followed him during his years of exile. He once even cut flesh from his own thigh to provide the Prince Chong Er for food. Eventually Chong Er was enthroned as duke, however, Jie Zi Tui considered his services no longer required and resigned and moved into the forest with his mother. Duke Chong Er went to the forest in 636 BC but could not find them. He then ordered his men to set fire to the forest in order to force Jie Zi Tui to come out. Sadly Jie Zi Tui and his mother were killed, the duke was overcome with remorse and ordered three days without fire to honour Jie’s memory. The city erected over the former forest is still called Jie Xiu (literally means “Jie’s rest”).

What happens during the festival?

* People remember and honour their ancestors at grave sites. They pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, and joss paper accessories to the ancestors.

* The rites have a long tradition in Asia, especially among farmers. Some people carry willow branches with them during the festival or put willow branches on their gates and/or front doors. They believe that willow branches help ward off the evil spirit that wanders on Qingming.

* People go on family outings, start the spring ploughing, singing, and dancing.

* Young couples traditionally start courting.

* Another popular custom is to fly kites in the shapes of animals or characters or with little lanterns attached to them. They are flown during both the day and night. People often cut the string while the kite is flying in the sky which is said to bring good luck and eliminate disease. It is also common to carry flowers instead of burning paper, incense, or firecrackers.

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