Easter and the Clear Bright Festival

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March 31st 2010
Published: March 31st 2010
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Morning light at WutasiMorning light at WutasiMorning light at Wutasi

I hope to visit this temple on Clear Bright: it is much quieter and more peaceful to me than its bigger counterpart, Dazhao.

Painted eggs, tomb sweeping and a synchronistic holiday weekend

Yesterday I was called over to my supervisor's desk and told that I would have Monday off. I asked her if we had a holiday coming up, and she told me we would be off for 清明节 (Qingming Jie or "Clear Bright Festival"). She added that it was a holiday in honor of the dead.

I felt a slight chill, because this weekend is also Easter. How odd that the two holidays should coincide! In fact, this year Clear Bright Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, falls the day after Easter Sunday.

This wasn't the first time I had heard of Tomb Sweeping Day: one of my Chinese friends has a name that sounds vaguely like 清明; as a result, one of his more eccentric foreign friends gave him the inspired moniker "Tomb Sweeper." (I claim no responsibility: an expansive Southern gent with a penchant for the theatrical is the culprit).

Of course, explaining his nickname meant bringing up the Clear Bright Festival. Tomb Sweeper didn't tell me much about it other than the obvious traditions of clearing and decoration of graves. It made me think of Day of the Dead, actually. But I didn't give it much more thought than that, and I forgot all about it.

Being reminded again, I took to the web to do some homework. A quick search yielded these vague facts: it is indeed a day to honor ancestors; tombs are cleared and offerings of paper shapes representing clothes, houses and other necessities are burned and sent to the spirit world. Firecrackers are set off (I could have guessed that; the wedding reception hall next door to my quarters ensures that not a day goes by that I don't hear fireworks). People are supposed to go outdoors to enjoy the spring weather, and in past times courtships between young adults began around this time.

Another point of interest is that Clear Bright Festival was not a public holiday in China after the establishment of the Communist government, and was reinstated to national holiday status only two years ago, in 2008.

To be honest, the primary reason I did my preliminary research was because I had planned a small blurb on Easter vocabulary for my coworkers ("easter bunny," "chocolate eggs," etc) to supplement my more practical (and boring) vocabulary list for my English training today; hearing that Clear Bright was coming up, I was afraid mentioning such a light-spirited holiday might be taboo around this seemingly more somber date. Upon investigation and reflection, however, it seems to me that the two holidays share some similarities. And my worries about Easter not being mainstream enough to mention were blown to pieces when a restaurant manager enlisted my help in preparing some Easter-themed activities and decorations.

I was reminded today of a conversation I had soon after I first arrived here. A coworker was asking me about holidays in Western countries, and she said, "Don't people eat rabbits on Easter?" I found this question rather hilarious: it was just too morbid. Conflicting images of the Easter Bunny and a steaming hot ragoût de lapin immediately popped into my head, and I had to really try hard not to burst out laughing. Not that it wasn't a perfectly valid question: after all, we came from opposite sides of the planet. I only hope that I don't unwittingly make equally humorous statements every day, but that's what coming here is all about: learning what my assumptions are and where my knoweldge is either incorrect or incomplete.

With that in mind, I hope to enjoy some of the festivities on Clear Bright. Hopefully even a blonde laowai can find a way to pay tribute to her ancestors, both those of her own lineage and those whose lineage is found in this historically vast, diverse and dynamic culture.

Signing off from the Blue City - Sam


31st March 2010

I love Qing Ming because i'll get one day off ·^o^·. So nice to see you here. How is the sandstorm in north china these days? i hope it didn't get that bad.

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