April 4th marks Tomb Sweeping Day in China, a day to both honour ancestors and celebrate the arrival of spring. But this is only one of the festivals that happen in China in April, which roughly corresponds to the third lunar month of the Chinese calendar. What other festivals are coming up this month?
Read on to find out!
Tomb Sweeping Day (清明节 Qīngmíng Jié) – April 4th in Chinese communities worldwide
On the fifteenth day after the Spring Equinox, Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors to saomu, “sweep the tomb” – clean and tidy the site, pray and make offerings such as food and paper money.
The festival is said to have originated in the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476BC), with Jie Zitui, who earned the respect of Duke Wen when he saved his life. Nineteen years later, the Duke had forgotten Jie, and when reminded, he felt ashamed. He went to find Jie and his elderly mother, but the two hid in the forest, as Jie was so humble that he didn’t want to be rewarded in any way for saving the Duke’s life. Jie set fire to the forest to force them to come out, but instead killed them. He gave them a respectful burial and ordered his subjects not to use fire and only to eat cold food on that day, traditions that are still observed today.
The modern festival originated in the Tang Dynasty. Wealthy citizens in China were holding too many extravagant ceremonies in honor of their ancestors, so in 732, Emperor Xuanzong sought to stop the practice by declaring that such ceremonies could be held only once a year, on Qingming.
This year, celebrating will be harder – to prevent overcrowding and minimize the coronavirus risk, the Beijing government has introduced a reservation system for grave visits to major cemeteries. Many old tombs are inaccessible in the countryside, where many villages are still locked down. And across the world, the Chinese diaspora will be marking the festival online instead of in person.
Sisters’ Meal (姐妹节 Jiěmèi Jié) – April 7th in Guizhou Province
Sisters’ Meals is an important festival celebrating both spring and love for the Miao people in Guizhou Province in China’s south-west. It began as a opportunity for young people from different villages to meet their future spouse. Young men go to different villages to ask for “sisters’ rice”, a special rice dish cooked by young single women. The rice is dyed five colours and steamed. The young men and women, dressed in traditional clothing, dance and sing a question and answer routine where the men have to answer the women’s questions.
After the singing and dancing, the women give the men “sisters’ rice”, with a secret message hidden in the rice. For example, a bamboo hook means further contact is desired; buds of the Chinese toon tree or parsley symbolize marriage; garlic stalk is a polite refusal.
In modern times the festival has become a tourist attraction and important source of income for the Miao people.
March Street Festival / Third Moon Fair (三月街) – April 7th to 13th in Dali, Yunnan Province
During this festival, the streets of Dali become full of market stalls selling every conceivable item, particularly goods produced by ethnic minority peoples in the area such as Bai, Yi and Naxi. The origins of this huge market are unknown, but a local legend tells of a demon who came to Dali and was scared off by Guanyin (a Bodhisattva widely known in English as the Goddess of Mercy). Since that event, the local people have gathered yearly to celebrate Guanyin, so another name for the festival is Guanyin Fair.
Water Splashing Festival (泼水节 Pōshuǐ jié) – April 13th to 15th in Yunnan Province
The water splashing festival is the most important festival for the Dai people of Yunnan province in China’s southwest. Celebrated in several south Asian countries including Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, the festival is also known as Songkran.
The water splashing festival marks the new year according to the solar calendar – when the sun moves into Aries. The new year happens over three days. April 13th is the last day of the old year, when the sun actually moves into Aries. April 14th is a transitional day, and the 15th is the first day of the new year.
Water is an important part of the festival, being closely associated with blessings and purity in Dai culture. Although events are unlikely to go ahead this year, traditionally on the first two days dragon boat races are held on the Lancang (Mekong) River, and at night lanterns are floated on the water and fireworks are set off. On the third day, people dress up in new clothes and go to a Buddhist temple to attend a ceremonial washing of a Buddha statue. Afterwards people sprinkle each other, and also the monks, with water to symbolise blessings. Over time this tradition has become more boisterous, with people now going into the streets with bowls and pans to douse each other, even strangers, with water. The wetter you get the more blessings you’ll have in the new year!
Peony Festival – Second week in April to the second week in May every year in Luoyang, Henan Province
Peonies, symbolising grace and nobility, are beloved in China, and are the de-facto national flower (there isn’t an official one). Peonies have long been used in Chinese cooking and medicine, and became especially popular for their flowers during the Tang dynasty, when they were grown in the imperial gardens. In the tenth century the cultivation of peonies spread throughout China, and the capital of the Song dynasty Luoyang became a centre for its cultivation, as it still is today, with many peony exhibitions and shows still held there every spring.
Every year the peonies bloom for about a month, with the peak usually around the third week in April. The city has several gardens dedicated to peonies, including the Luoyang National Peony Garden, Shenzhou Peony Garden, Xiyuan Park and Luoyang International Peony Garden, as well as many other parks and gardens featuring other spring-flowering plants.
Have you experienced any of these festivals? What did you think? Would you like to attend any of them in the future? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter. We always love hearing from you!
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