Easter – the season of chocolate eggs, bunnies and chickens.
Easter is not a festival which has taken off in China – unlike Christmas, and Halloween – so it’s not that easy to find Easter Eggs. The ubiquitous British clothing store Marks and Spencers, does stock them in their food hall though!
Regardless of your spiritual or religious beliefs, it’s been long established that Easter was a spring festival, long before the Christian celebration or remembrance of the life and death of Jesus.
I mean to say – bunnies… chickens… eggs…..
If that’s not enough, then think about when Easter is celebrated. It’s on the lunar calender, the first full moon after the northern hemisphere’s Spring Equinox.
Easter is one of the few western festivals which is determined by the phases of the moon, not the cycle of the sun. Very occasionally – and this year – it coincides with a very important Chinese Festival, 青明节Qing Ming Jie. – which is one of the few Chinese festivals which is calculated on the solar calendar.
青 qing means clear
明 ming is bright
and节jie is festival.
Thus we have 青明节 the Clear, Bright Festival. Qing Ming is when Chinese people traditionally visit their ancestor’s graves to pay their respects. Whilst they are at the gravesite, they light incense, bring flowers and other offerings, and yes, sweep the tomb.
Unfortunately, for one reason or another – probably due to the influx of missionaries in China during the 18th Century and the fact that Jesuists were responsible for much of “translations” – Qing Ming Jie, with it’s amazing sense of time, place, season, mixed with ritual, worship, and respecting those who came before, is usually translated baldly as “Tomb Sweeping Day”.
Consider, for a moment, that you go to visit your dead Grandmother’s tomb or casket and take flowers, and you notice someone has carelessly strewn empty beer bottles around the cemetery, or the casket is dusty from lack of care. You tidy it up a bit, don’t you. You’d hardly call the act of visiting your Grandmother’s remains out of love and remembrance “dusting the casket” or “cleaning around the grave”. You don’t go to sweep, you go to remember and honour.
In Chinese culture especially, remembering, honouring, and respecting one’s ancestors are deeply held cultural beliefs and practices.
So why clear and bright?
In ancient China, calendrical matters were complex, important things.
Qing Ming is a particular seasonal period, one of the 24 two-week periods on the solar calendar that the ancient Chinese gave names to, identifying seasonal changes.
After winter, the skies turn clear and the air is fresh. A “bright and clear day” heralding the beginning of spring –Qing Ming.
It’s a time when people go out after the harsh winter and begin the planting season. In ancient times, since the weather was becoming fine, it also marked a period when people could safely leave their homes and trek up the mountains to their family grave sites.
So whether you are eating chocolate eggs or honouring your ancestors over this weekend, hope you all enjoy the clear, bright days.