Saturday, April 3, 2010

Shoes at Qingming

Qingming (清明节) is a traditional Chinese festival celebrated between March 26 and April 15. During Qingming people tend to the graves of their departed ones. Tomb Sweeping Day and Clear Bright Festival are the most common English translations of the Qingming Festival. The tradition stretches back more than 2,500 years and was credited to the Tang Emperor, Xuanzong in 732. He became concerned at the time and extravagance of people honoring their ancestors and curbed the practice restricting it to Qingming. The Communist Party of China banned Qingming in 1949 but later reinstated the holiday in 2008. Now Chinese families can remember and honor their ancestors at grave sites. During Qingming sons venerate their departed parents and paternal grandparents, while daughters venerate their father’s side before marriage and their husband’s after marriage. Young and old pray before their ancestors and sweep the tombs. During Qingming families offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, and joss paper accessories to the departed. Joss paper accessories include paper money (Hell bank notes) and paper replicas of the departed’s favorite material goods such as cars, telephones, or TV sets. These are ceremonially burnt in honor of the departed. Many traditional superstitions are observed during Qingming including carrying willow branches. These are left on gates or outside houses to ward off evil spirits. Visitors to graveyards wear bright colours for the same reason. Pregnant women, babies and toddlers are discouraged from visiting graveyards for fear that loitering spirits might take advantage of the physically weak and snatch their souls. Visitors to the grave sites will sometimes let off fire-crackers as a “wake-up” call for the spirits. Young children are cautioned against making too much noise in case they disturb other spirits. The living should avoid stepping on hell currencies at the grave site lest the spirits feel despised and trampled upon. It is also forbidden to walk over a grave. Neither slippers nor sandals are worn to the grave sites. When offerings are left by the graveside these remain the property of the departed and bad luck will befall anyone who would remove them. The toss of coins is used to determine when the spirits have finished with the offerings. Worshippers flip coins twice to check on the progress. Two heads or two tails means that the spirits have not finished savoring the delicacies. A head and a tail mean that they have finished their meal. It is a bad omen to bring the earth from the cemetery into their homes for fear this will attract evil spirits. Socks and shoes are removed before entering the house and washed to rid them of any bad luck. Some people have ready a pail of water with pomelo or kaffir lime leaves to wash their faces, hands and legs. This is followed by a head-to-toe bath as a second cleansing to ward off any evil spirits.

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