Tomb Sweeping Day is probably the most common English translation of the Chinese word, 清明节 or Qīngmíng Jié. Like other Chinese holidays, it has many names in English. It is also widely known as Ancestor’s Day, Chinese Memorial Day, and Clear Bright Festival.
The name, of course, refers to the practice of visiting the tombs, graves, or burial grounds of your ancestors. Families all around China visit these sacred places, and will bring offerings such as food, alcohol, tea, and joss paper. Other traditions include eating cold food and burning (fake) money to ward off bad spirits.
Whatever the name, the holiday usually takes place in early April, and as such is a wildly popular time for Chinese people to get out and explore. The festival coincides with the onset of Spring, and as such it is common practice for families to visit parks together, and take walks outside of the cities. Turn on your TV and you’re sure to see pictures of flowers bursting into bloom all around the country.
Family outings are common at this time of year, as the weather turns pleasant across most of China. There are more kites in the sky than normal, and more events in the parks and gardens. People are generally in a happy mood, and therefore there is probably no better time to get out and explore China.
One of the best options for expats in China is to visit the wonderful Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in Beijing. It’s in a convenient location for travelers, but offers a fascinating glimpse of China’s ancient traditions.
As with all Chinese holidays, it can be quite busy and you need to book your travel in advance. Trains and buses fill up fast, as with three days of holiday, everyone wants to get home to their family or get out to the national parks.
Like a number of other traditional Chinese holidays, Tomb Sweeping Day was outlawed during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, but fortunately returned many years later. In 2008 it became an official holiday, and this year (2012) it will be celebrated on April 5th, with April 2nd and 3rd also considered public holidays.