There are differences and similarities between Western and Eastern culture. One thing I really enjoy of this class is it helps me explore American culture through literature. Literature as a form of art expresses culture. Since I am in charge of blogging this week, I decide to use this platform to introduce some Chinese culture that could be related to what we have been discussing. Few weeks ago, we talked about “Thanatopsis” by Bryant. In this poem, Bryant mentions returning to nature after death. Also, Easter is approaching along with the nice weather outside. In China, we also have a traditional holiday has a relation to that- the Tomb- Sweeping Day aka Qing Ming festival.
Tomb Sweeping Day, as one of the few traditional Chinese holidays that is celebrated two weeks after the vernal equinox, typically falling on April 4, 5, or 6. It is a festival for holding memorial ceremony for people’s lost relatives and ancestors. It is a time to express one's grief and sorrow for their loss, a time to celebrate the rebirth of nature, while marking the beginning of the planting season and other outdoor activities. At this time, spring returns and dominates the earth again. The feel of growing life is in the air, with sap ascending in trees and buds bursting. And the willow branches inserted on each gate add vigor and vitality to the surroundings.
In ancient times, people celebrated Tomb Sweeping Day with dancing, singing, picnics, and kite flying. Kites can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. People plant willows in front of their door to celebrate the renewing nature of spring. With the passing of time, this celebration of life became a day to the honor past ancestors. Following folk religion, Chinese people believe that the spirits of deceased ancestors bless their family. Sacrificial offerings make them happy, and the family would prosper through good harvests and more children from such bless.
Today, Chinese visit their family graves at Qing Ming to weed out rank grass that has grown and swept away dust, and then place bland food by the tombs. One of the most traditional customs is that people kowtow in front of the graves to express respect and cherished memory of their ancestors. After that, people regularly provide sacrificial offerings, censers and burning incense at tables in their homes so as to expedite the transfer of nutritious elements to the ancestors and bring good luck.
Along with these traditions, there are also many poems about this special festival. One of them is called Qing Ming by Du Mu, a famous poet in China.
Du Mu (Tang Dynasty: 803-852 AD)
It drizzles thick and fast on the Mourning Day,
The mourner travels with his heart lost in dismay.
When asked for a wineshop to kill his gloomy time,
A cowboy points at Almond Hamlet far away.
Translated by: Weixiong Wu