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What is the Festival of Pure Brightness?

The Festival of Pure Brightness is a holiday in China, and it may be celebrated in Chinatowns around the world as well.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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The Festival of Pure Brightness is also known as the Qingming festival, and is a traditional Chinese festival which takes place on the 104th day after the winter solstice. This means it usually falls on April 5th. It is a celebration of spring, and a time to look after the resting places of deceased ancestors.

This festival is also known as Grave Sweeping Day, Spring Remembrance, and All Souls Day. It is a day to look after the graves, and to bring offerings to ancestors. People travel to graves to pray and offer up thanks to the dead, and to give them gifts of food, drink, chopsticks, and various paper accessories signifying things they may find useful in the afterlife.

Some people also believe that the spirits of the dead travel around on the Festival of Pure Brightness, and so carry around willow branches to ward off disgruntled or evil spirits. Generally, though, the air is one of jubilation and celebration, rather than fear.

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The festival also acts as a welcoming of spring, and many of the activities that take place are built around greeting the sun and fresh life. Families go out on picnics together, the season of plowing traditionally begins, and the outdoors are generally enjoyed. It is also a time when young couples begin to court one another, with spring in the air. Perhaps one of the most iconic activities people do on the day is to fly large kites. These kites may take the form of characters from Chinese opera, from myth, or simply be large animal forms. The skies in some areas are full of the kites, as families fly them over their picnics

The Festival of Pure Brightness was established in the early 8th century by the Emperor Xuanzong. It was instituted in response to complaints by many that the wealthiest families had created a plethora of holidays to worship at the graves of their ancestors, spending copious amounts of wealth, and creating a virtually nonstop culture of worship. So Xuanzong created the holiday, and decreed that to be the only day on which people could formally pay their respects at the graves of their deceased ancestors.

The Festival of Pure Brightness grew out of an earlier festival, often called the Cold Food Festival. This holiday was formed when Jie Zitui was killed in a fire his lord set to try to force him out of hiding. In grief, the man set aside the day and declared that no fire could be used on that day. In the 18th century the two holidays were combined, but eventually the holiday lost most of the elements that linked it to the Cold Food Festival, which faded away in much of China.

The Festival of Pure Brightness is also an important date in the culture of tea within China. The most expensive and prized green teas are those which have been harvested before the Festival of Pure Brightness, referred to as mingqing or pre-qingming teas, and are known for being lighter and more gentle than those picked later.

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