This week’s blog comes from resident blogger and Teach China Graduate Program participant, Jonas Groom. This week, Jonas discusses the differences between Western and Chinese festivals, including his own experience of the Tomb Sweeping Festival.
We’re all familiar with the standard Western holidays such as Easter, Christmas and of course St Paddy’s Day (which is always a lot of fun!) but what about Eastern holidays?
Last week I was doing the usual nightly stroll to the grocer to grab some veggies and chicken for a homecooked dinner and I noticed scores of Chinese families and couples burning what looked like paper in the street. They weren’t just being silly with a lighter and some paper, gazing emotionally into the flames it had a ritualistic aura to it. Chatting to the cashier lady I realised that this day was in fact Qingming Festival – Tomb Sweeping Festival.
Tomb Sweeping Festival?? That sounded awesome – a lot cooler than the ‘Christmas’ or ‘Easter’ labels we’re used to. To summarise this fascinating foreign festival – (Festival isn’t exactly the most fitting word!) the Tomb Sweeping Festival is where Chinese families in China and across the globe pay respect to their deceased relatives. If they are able, families visit the tombs and resting places of deceased loved ones. It is here where they clean and ‘sweep’ the tombs, placing fresh towers in the tombs along with offerings such as food, incense and fake money; these last two are burnt.
So, this was what the Chinese were burning In the streets on that night I walked to the grocer! Because I’m a history nut this not so well-known Chinese ‘festival’ is all the more fascinating as it is a physical manifestation of the ancient Confucian value of elder respect. It was awesome to see this ancient tradition and value being practised in the modern day. I decided to go on a longer walk just to see more of this cool tradition. There was one road corner where over four different families were crouching beside the flames burning their special paper so that it would reach their deceased loved ones.
Speaking to Chinese friends I realised that Tomb Sweeping Festival doesn’t have that much of a cheery atmosphere compared to Chinese New Year! The day is spent praying and solemnly remembering deceased family members and ancestors.
Experiencing first-hand this festival was definitely a step above hunting for chocolate eggs in the garden at Easter. It took me back to when I celebrated Chinese New Year with a Chinese family in Chengdu in February. The Chinese New Year is more a family affair than the Western New Year -it is more akin to Christmas. You sit with family around a table enjoying a meal and great banter! Although the close quarter fireworks were a change from the health and safety set up in Sydney!
Now I made a video on this experience – be sure to check it out here.
New Year’s Day was another eye-opening experience as I went to a popular temple in Chengdu with my co-worker and good friend Big Kev (Kevin Brew). Here there were Chinese families in their hundreds all completing rituals, bowing and praying around the temple complex.
I know I’ve only mentioned two Chinese festivals here – but just with a taste of these two it is clear just how important family is to the Chinese people and also just how awesome and interesting Chinese Culture is! I’ll let you come and discover the rest when you too take the plunge and come live in China!
As always – don’t be afraid to contact me if you have any questions!
Jonas ( 泽云- My Chinese name!)
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