April 4, 2012

Tomb Sweeping Day

Today, people across China 'celebrate' Qingming Jie, or Tomb Sweeping Day. It's not so much a celebration. Students always correct me anytime I use the words 'celebrate' or 'holiday' to describe this festival. So what is Tomb Sweeping Day? Wikipedia describe the festival:
Traditionally, the family will burn spirit money and paper replicas of material goods such as cars, homes, phones and paper servants. In Chinese culture, it is believed that people still need all of those things in the afterlife. Then family members start take turns to kowtow three to nine times (depending on the family adherence to traditional values) before the tomb of the ancestors. The Kowtowing ritual in front of the grave is performed in the order of patriarchal seniority within the family. After the ancestor worship at the grave site, the whole family or the whole clan feast on the food and drink they brought for the worship either at the site or in nearby gardens in the memorial park, signifying family reunion with the ancestors.

The family can send departed relatives much more than burned money or other goods. Unbetrothed relatives can be married to a "ghost spouse" In a custom called "ghost marriages." The Economist describes that "according to custom, the bodies are buried together in a ceremony that is a cross between a wedding and a funeral. Their ghosts, it is believed, will then no longer be lonely, and the family’s fortunes will be restored."1

Read more about the fascinating custom of ghost marriages that leads to very lucrative bodysnatching in The Economist, "China's Qingming festival Tomb-sweeping and bodysnatching."

Read more from previous TwelveTwoTimes posts:

Hell Money (April 2009)

Peaches & Eggs (April 2011)

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