Qingming is the fifth of the twenty-four solar terms. It falls on the day between mid- and late spring， marking the official start of the spring. It is the first day when the sun reaches 15 degrees in celestial longitude. According to Almanac： “On the 15th day after the Spring Equinox， when the big Dipper points to the position of Ding， it’s time of Qingming. Everything is clear and bright. When the air is clear， everything becomes obvious.”
According to Chinese tradition， every five days in the 15 days after Qingming are separated as a “hou.” In the first hou， Tung trees begin to bud； rats go underground during the second hou； and rainbows start to show in the third hou.”
Initially Qingming is just the name of a solar term， how it becomes a festival to commemorate the ancestors has to do with the Cold Food Festival. It has been more than 2500 years since Duke Wen of Jin established the day after the Cold Food Festival as the Qingming festival. Qingming Festival is also called the Outing Festival. It falls on the day in between mid- and late spring， which is the 108th day after the winter solstice. Qingming Festival is a traditional Chinese festival， also one of the most important festivals of sacrifice， a day of paying respect to ancestors and sweeping tombs.
The term of Qingming characterizes the phenology of the solar term， implying sunny days and lush vegetation， as the saying goes：“Snow will be off after Qingming and frost will be off after Guyu.” In Northern China， during the Qingming period， temperature rises quickly with little precipitation and much dry wind. It’s a period with the most sand storms in a year. Except for the northeast and northwest regions， the average temperature in most areas has risen to above 12 ℃. Busy scenes of spring plowing and sowing can be found everywhere， ranging from the north and south of the Yangtze river to inside and outside of the Great Wall.
The traditional customs of the Qingming Festival are abundant and interesting. In addition to a fire ban and tomb-sweeping， spring-outing， playing swing， playing Cuju and polo， and wearing willow branches are all among the many customs and sports activities on Qingming. Legend has it that because heating food is under ban on Qingming， it is good for people to participate in some sports activities and exercise in order to prevent the cold food and beverages from harming health. Thus， the festival combines both the bitter tears of remembering the dead through cleaning new tombs and the laughter of having fun while outing， making it a rather distinctive holiday.
Swinging is a custom of the festival during ancient time. Swing means grabbing a leather cord and moving. It has a long history. Originally it is called Qianqiu， later it was changed to Qiuqian as Qianqiu refers to the emperor， a taboo to be avoided in China. In ancient time， a swing often used tree twigs as frames， with ribbons tying to the frame. Later， it gradually developed into a swing pedal hung by two ropes. Swinging not only can improve health， but also can foster courage， loved by many people， especially children until today.
Ju is a kind of leather ball stuffed with feathers. Cuju literally means to play ball with feet. It is a game loved by people during the Qingming Festival in ancient time. Legend has it that the Yellow Emperor invented Cuju， the original purpose of which was to train warriors.
Tomb-sweeping， is originally a custom of the day （or three days） before Qingming， the Cold Food festival. The two festivals have merged gradually since the Tang Dynasty and finally settled on the day of Qingming， becoming the custom of the Qingming festival. As a matter of fact， tomb-sweeping had started before the Qin Dynasty， but not necessarily on Qingming festival. Tomb-sweeping on Qingming started after the Qin Dynasty and flourished during the Tang Dynasty. It’s a time to express missing and respect to the ancestors. According to Qing- Universal Ceremony： “On the Cold Food Festival， also known as the Frost Festival， the descendants would worship the ancestors by sweeping tombs. On this day， they would wear white clothes， taking wines， food and tools for clearing wild grass on the tombs. They would prune the branches and clear wild grass on the tombs， hence the name tomb-sweeping.”
踏青 Stepping the greens
Also known as spring outing， or spring visiting and spring searching in the old days. During the Qingming period， spring returns and everything in nature takes on a new look. It is a great time for outing. This custom can be traced back to a long time ago and followed till today.
植树 Tree Planting
Qingming tree planting originated from the activities of wearing willow branches and planting willows. During the Qingming Festival， people would engage in outdoor activities such as worshiping the ancestors， sweeping tombs， and outings， while women and children would make a ring of budding willow branches to wear on their head， as a festive embellishment. Willows in Chinese people‘s minds can prevent evil spirits and guard security. In Buddhism， it is believed that willows have a function of exorcism and willow branches can save people， just as those in the jar held by Guanyin（Goddess of Mercy）， who would spread pure water with willow branches to save people off sufferings and difficulties. In early days， people also wear willow braches while praying for rain. From the perspective of solar terms， Qingming， as one of the twenty-four solar terms， is a time spring returns to Northern China and everything wakes up from winter hibernation， hence very suitable for planting trees.
放风筝 Flying Kites
Kite-flying is an activity favored by many people. During the Qingming Festival， kites are not only flown during the day time but also in the evening. Little lanterns are tied to the kite or to the string that holds the kite. And when the kite is flying in the sky， the lanterns look like twinkling stars and are called the “god’s lanterns.” In the past， some people would cut the string while the kite is in the sky to let it fly free. It is said that diseases and misfortunes can be eliminated by doing this and good luck will come.
Proverbs on the Solar Term
Snow will be off after Qingming and frost will be off after Guyu.
Wheat grows fast on Qingming.
It’s time to plant melons and beans before and after Qingming.
It’s a disaster for wheat if it rains for days around Qingming， a disaster for rice if frost falls on Hanlu.
If it’s so sunny on Qingming that willows even wither， then it will be a great harvest in autumn.
Poems on Qingming
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