Qingming Festival History and Folklore

Qingming Festival History and Folklore

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This article is part of our Qingming Festival Family Guide. Sign up for our newsletter to receive our best activity, recipe and craft ideas before every Chinese holiday.

The Qingming Festival occurs as spring blooms, making the holiday an interesting mix of somber tomb sweeping and celebratory outdoor activities. It’s one of the two big annual festivals designated for the dead — the other is the Hungry Ghost Festival in the fall.



The Story of the Qingming Festival

The Qingming Festival originated more than 2,500 years ago from the Cold Food Festival or Hanshi Festival, three days without fire that memorialize Jie Zitui, a loyal follower of Chong’er, Duke Wen of Jin. The holiday gained additional importance when the Tang Emperor Xuanzong restricted expensive displays of ancestor worship by decreeing that such respects would only be observed once per year on the date of the Qingming Festival. Though tomb sweeping remains the holiday’s primary observable practice today, people in some parts of China still eat only cold foods during the Qingming Festival.

The Qingming Festival and the Agricultural Cycle

The Qingming Festival takes place on April 4 or 5 every year, the first day of the fifth solar term of the Chinese calendar. Qingming or “Pure Brightness,” is one of 24 such seasonal division points and begins a period of rising temperatures and increasing rainfall. During the preceding month of March, the natural landscape awakens from its winter slumber — flowers bloom, trees sprout leaves and the sun shines. The Qingming Festival’s place on the calendar explains the holiday’s close relationship with agriculture and the outdoors. Traditionally, the festival marked a crucial time to begin plowing and sowing seeds.

When is the Qingming Festival?

The Qingming Festival takes place on April 4 or 5 every year. Workers receive one day off for the Qingming Festival. Practically speaking, the Qingming Festival is a three day holiday, with up to two of these days “made up” on either the preceding or following weekend.

Qingming Festival dates through 2026 are below.

YearDate
2015April 5
2016April 4
2017April 4
2018April 5
2019April 5
2020April 4
2021April 4
2022April 5
2023April 5
2024April 4
2025April 4
2026April 5

HT: Photo by Wall Street Journal.

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