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Pure Brightness Festival

Festival of Pure Brightness is also called Tomb-Sweeping Day and Qingming Festival. It is the occasion where all Chinese to honor their ancestors. It is one of the 24 seasonal division points in China, falling on the 12th day of the 3rd lunar month each year. It is also the high time for spring plowing and sowing.

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This festival occurs in April 4th through 6th. This is the time when family comes out to their ancestor tombs to show some respect such as weeding, sweeping the dirt off the tomb, and burning paper money.

From time to time, family may have a picnic around the tomb as well. This would shows that the ancestors that their families had never forgotten them.

Traditionally, family would burn paper money and paper replica of some material good such as car, maid, home, phone, etc. In Chinese culture, even though a person died, he/she may still need all of these in the afterlife. This aspect reflects a form of belief and care from their family members.

There should always an even number of dishes put in front of the grave and a bowl of rice with incense stick upright. Then, family members start taking turn to bow before the tomb of the ancestors starting from the most senior member of the family.

What is the origin of Chinese Pure Brightness Festival?

The Festival of Pure Brightness was established in the early 8th century by the Emperor Xuanzong. It was instituted in response to complaints by many that the wealthiest families had created a plethora of holidays to worship at the graves of their ancestors, spending copious amounts of wealth, and creating a virtually nonstop culture of worship. Therefore, Xuanzong created the Festival of Pure Brightness, and decreed that to be the only day on which people could formally pay their respects at the graves of their deceased ancestors.

Pure Brightness Festival
What is the legend of the Pure Brightness Festival?

Legend said that the Pure Brightness Festival was set up to memorialize Jie Zitui, a man of noted loyalty during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 B.C.). He helped his lord when his lord's crown and power were in jeopardy. When his lord's power was restored, Mr. Jie, who preferred to live in a peaceful life refused to accept a position his lord offered to him. He escaped with his mother to a mountain. His lord set a fire to try to force him out, and then force him accept the position. Mr. Jie died in the fire. To memorialize Mr. Jie, his lord set aside the day he died as the original Festival of Pure Brightness.

What are special foods for the Pure Brightness Festival?

According to the legend, Jie Zitui had been killed by a fire. Therefore, it became a tradition to abstain from lighting fires on that Day. On the day of the festival, people would only eat cold foods that had been prepared the day before.

What are activities in the Pure Brightness Festival?

Traditional customs related to Festival of Pure Brightness are sweeping the tombstones of ancestors, burning ceremonial paper money for the dead, going to the suburbs, swinging, flying a kite, cockfighting, playing ball, etc. The Pure Brightness Festival is a combination of sadness and grief.

tomb sweeping

In contrast to the sadness of the tomb sweepers, people also enjoy hope of spring on this day. The Qingming Festival is a time when the sun shines brightly, the trees and grass become green and nature is again lively. Since ancient times, people have followed the custom of spring outings. At this time tourists are everywhere.

People love to fly kites during the Qingming Festival. Kite flying is actually not limited to the Qingming Festival. Its uniqueness lies in that people fly kites not during the day, but also at night. A string of little lanterns tied onto the kite or the thread look like shining stars, and therefore, are called "god's lanterns."

The Qingming Festival is also a time to plant trees, for the survival rate of saplings is high and trees grow fast later. In the past, the Qingming Festival was called "Arbor Day". But since 1979, "Arbor Day" was settled as March 12 according to the Gregorian calendar.

What is the Cold Food Festival?

The Festival of Pure Brightness grew out of an earlier festival, often called the Cold Food Festival. This holiday was formed when Jie Zitui was killed in a fire his lord had set to try to force him out of hiding. In grief, his lord set aside the day and declared that no fire could be used on that day. In the 18th century the two holidays were combined, but eventually the Festival of Pure Brightness lost most of the elements that linked it to the Cold Food Festival, which faded away in much of China.
The Hanshi (Cold Food) Festival was usually one day before the Qingming Festival. The Cold Food Festival or Hanshi Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated for three consecutive days starting the day before the Qingming Festival in the Chinese calendar. As our ancestors often extended the day to the Qingming, they were later combined.

The Pure Brightness Festival is known as "Remembrance of Ancestors Day". The Chinese hold great respect for their ancestors and the young are taught to pray to, and for, the family spirits. Now, Pure Brightness Festival becomes a festival for family gathering rather than a sad festival.

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