Vacation, ho! While scores of workers in China approach the coming weekend with reluctance—for many, this weekend is a working weekend, and seven day work-weeks are a drag—the following week holds promise of time off. This coming Monday (2 April 2012) marks the beginning of Qingming Festival (Qīngmíng Jié, 清明节), an official holiday on the Mainland, as well as in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The vacation runs until Wednesday, 4 April 2012, the actual date of the celebration, and is also known to some as Tomb Sweeping Day, Grave Sweeping Day and All Souls Day, among other similarly-themed romanized names. For most people, work resumes Thursday.
It is difficult to argue with a holiday, especially one that grants a day off work (by working Saturday and Sunday, offices move the weekend to Monday and Tuesday, creating what is basically a mid-week three day weekend). But for foreigners, it is easy to brush off the larger implications of a culturally-unknown holiday (that is to say, the whole purpose of the holiday in the first place) and take advantage of the free time. Spring is coming, I've been wearing sunglasses everyday and I, for one, will be heading to Chengdu, southern land of spicy noodles and pandas (there are also rumors of beautiful women).
But before I depart this florescently-lit office for the Sichuan landscape and the seasonal peach blossoms, it seems appropriate to learn a bit about the foundations upon which this vacation is justified. After all, knowledge can be as exciting as jet-setting across the countryside*—or at least that's what I've heard. Let's find out, shall we?** Read on after the jump for more about Qingming....
Qingming is observed on the 104th day after the winter equinox. As such, what day of the week the holiday lands on rotates year to year; the government arranges sanctioned vacation time around the day, which explains why we're having a seven day work-week followed by three days off, then two days on, and then two days off before resuming a normal schedule. It puts a snag in the routine, to be sure, but I'll take it. You don't have to tell me twice to go on vaca—
Just kidding—I didn't leave for vacation. Yet.
So what's it all about? Well, as the moniker Grave Sweeping Day would suggest, the holiday is focused on tending to the memory of our ancestors—a righteous and important practice, whatever continent or culture you hail from. Here in China, cemeteries are visited, tombstones are dusted and grave-side flowers replenished. Weeds are eradicated around the grave-sites, and the soil is turned and refreshed to show respect to those buried beneath it. Fake paper money (jīnzhǐ, 金纸), incense and paper recreations of material goods (cell phones, clothes, cars, etc.) are burned to ensure that the afterlife of the deceased is blessed with an abundance of good things. The specific practices differ from region to region and family to family, but the idea is the same: remember where you came from.
Of course, the holiday isn't all about paying respects to the dead. There is an emphasis on spending time with your living family as well, and in appreciating the transformation in nature from winter to spring. Trees are planted, fields are plowed, meals are shared with those closest to you. While it is certainly no bad thing that there is a specific day reserved for such sentiments, I will take this holiday as a welcome reminder to be grateful all the time for those who have come before.
*Depends on the countryside. And the knowledge.
**Knowledge is not, in fact, as exciting as jet-setting across the countryside. It can, however, greatly increase an individual's ability to glean lessons from new situations. So read up, fools, let us learn more of the world.