Better Know A Holiday: Tomb-Sweeping Day

AKA: Qingming Festival, Pure Brightness Festival, Ancestors Day

When? 15th day after the vernal equinox (in 2013: April 4)

Public holiday in: China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan

Who died? Generations of ancestors.

Origin story: Unclear. However, Tomb-Sweeping Day did originate as the Cold Food Festival. In the seventh century B.C., a former prince named Chong’er and his followers were in exile. Food was scarce. One extremely loyal follower, named Jie, cut a chunk of flesh from his leg to make broth, which was used to feed Chong’er. Moved by this show of loyalty and sacrifice, Chong’er vowed to repay Jie. However, when Chong’er finally became king and rewards were being dished out, he somehow overlooked the guy with half a leg. Jie, understandably disappointed, moved into the forest.

Once he realized his mistake, Chong’er sought out Jie, and when he couldn’t find him in the dense forest, he burned it to the ground to flush him out. No good deed goes unpunished. Poor Jie didn’t have a leg to stand on and was found dead under a willow tree, burned to death. The king was filled with remorse. He declared three days of remembrance for his acolyte and forbade fires for those three days. The name Qingming (“pure bright”) stems from a note that was found declaring that Jie had a clear conscience in the after life.

The Cold Food Festival gradually merged with other traditions to the point where it became the annual time to pay tribute to one’s departed relatives.How is it celebrated? Tomb-Sweeping Day is less of a festival and more of a sincere celebration of family. Chinese travel to their hometowns for large family reunions. On the day proper, the family heads to the cemetery to pay respects to their deceased loved ones. This involves kowtowing to the graves of their ancestors, presenting food offerings, burning joss paper and generally tidying up the surroundings. Then, families will sit around, maybe have a picnic at the gravesite, and talk about – what else – family.

Associated food: Spring rolls are popular, but anything cold to recall the origins of the festival.

Associated commercialism: Even the dead can be commercialized. Part of the Qingming celebration involves burning fake money and paper replicas of consumer goods, and the memorial merchandise business is booming. Chinese spent over $1.5 billion – that’s with a “B” – on fake money, fake property deeds and papier mâché iPhones, sports cars and castles in 2012. These items are sacrificially burned to venerate the dead and contribute to their welfare in the afterlife. That’s a lot of money and paper that is literally going up in smoke, which given China’s current pollution woes, is not good news for the still breathing.

Other ways to celebrate: Planting willows, flying kites, tug-of-wars, paying homage to revolutionary martyrs.

[Photo Credit: istolethetv, bfishadow]

Venice: brought to you by Coca-Cola

Venice has always been a huge tourist draw. This city of majestic canals, picturesque medieval architecture and serenading gondoliers has long attracted visitors from near and far for its historic beauty and aesthetic charms. In fact Venice hosted nearly 20 million visitors in 2008, an increase of more than 30%.

Yet all is not well in this visitor-friendly Italian tourism magnet – in addition to severe flooding problems this past December, the city is threatened by crumbling architecture and severe budget deficits which make restoration difficult. In order to provide funding for much-needed restoration, the city recently signed a $2.7 million dollar deal that made Coca-Cola an official city sponsor. The deal reportedly includes over 60 Coke vending machines spread across historic city, including the venerable St. Mark’s Square.

What’s the big deal, you might say? It’s just a couple vending machines. And yes, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse problems than having to sponsor a monument or a city – it will ensure Venice is around for future generations. But still, for a a unique one-of-a-kind city like Venice, renowned the world over for its beauty and charm, the dire circumstances that forced this situation are troubling. It cheapens the city’s cultural heritage and suggests that such landmarks are nothing more than objects, waiting to be bought and sold. Not to mention the vending machines add a new eyesore to a city known for beautiful preservation of its historic buildings.

Still for the cash-poor Italian government, this may be one of the only options for Venice’s continued sustainability. Expect to see more of this sort of sponsorship deal in the future…