Top 11 Qingming Festival Activities

Written by Matteo Updated Mar. 31, 2023

Except for tomb sweeping, there are various interesting traditions and activities for Chinese people to celebrate the Qingming Festival. The most important ones are tomb-sweeping, spring outings, kite flying, tree planting, eating cold food, hanging willow branches, and playing the Cuju game. 

1. Tomb Sweeping 

The most important custom for the festival is tomb sweeping. Traditionally, Chinese people bring tea, wine, food, incense, firecrackers, and zhi qian (joss paper made to resemble money and burned as an offering to the dead) when visiting the tombs of their ancestors.

People take foodstuffs as an offering, burn firecrackers and zhi qian, cover the tomb with some new soil, insert several verdant branches on the tomb, and worship their ancestors with kowtows. After this routine people would go back home and eat family dinner together.

Today, it is forbidden to burn incense, firecrackers, and zhi qian in many cities in China, so people present fresh flowers instead, usually chrysanthemums and lilies.

Tomb-sweeping, Qingming Festival
Tomb-sweeping, Qingming Festival

2. Hanging Willow Branches

The atmosphere is very gloomy during the festival. People believe ghosts are trying to visit their houses.  So they wear soft willow branches or hang the branches on the front gates to ward the evil spirits away. 

Traditionally, people fold some tender willow branches into a wreath and wear it on their heads when they are going for an outing during this festival.  

Willow branch is a kind of ghost-driving wood. A traditional picture is merciful Guan Yin Bodhisattva holding a bottle and willow branches. The goddess used this mysterious water and branches to drive the evil spirits away. 

3. Flying Kite

In ancient times, during the Qingming Festival, Chinese people not only flew kites in the daytime but also flew them at night. They attached strings of little lanterns to the end of the kite, which looked like blinking stars. The lanterns are called Magic Lamps.

It is said that if you cut the string after the kite has flown into the sky and let it go freely, it will ward off sickness and bring you good luck!

Flying Kite during Qingming Festival
Flying Kite during Qingming Festival

4. Eating Cold Food

There was a Cold Food Festival in ancient times, but, later, the festival gradually disappeared and some of its customs were combined into the Qingming Festival.  During the Cold Food Festival, people didn't use fire and could only eat cold food. 

Today areas in northern China retain the habit of eating cold food during the Qingming Festival.  People eat cold eggs and cakes. They believe if they don't eat this way, they will suffer bad weather like hail this year.

5.  Spring Outing

Qingming Festival falls in early April when the weather warms up and everything comes to life. It is such a good time for a spring outing to enjoy the fresh air and relax. 

6. Planting Trees

The sunshine and rain are sufficient during Qingming Festival, which makes for a high survival rate for trees planted at this time. Hence Chinese people would like to plant trees upon the Qingming Festival’s arrival.

7. Eating Qingming Cake

Qingming cake, also called green cake, is a traditional snack eaten during the Qingming Festival. It is made from glutinous rice and Chinese mugwort. It tastes sweet and fragrant

The custom of eating Qingming cake has a history of more than 1000 years, dating back to the Tang Dynasty.  In ancient times, the cake was mainly used as an offering. But now it has become a highly seasonal snack.

Qingtuan,Qingming Festival food
Qingtuan,Qingming Festival food

8. Swinging on a Swing

The tradition of swinging on a swing during the Qingming Festival has a long history. The earliest swings were usually made with tree branches and decorated with colorful ribbons. Over time, swings were developed using two ropes and a footboard. Swinging on a swing is now a very interesting activity loved by children.

9. Eating Painted Eggs

 In ancient times, people boiled various types of eggs, such as chicken eggs, duck eggs, and bird eggs, and then painted them with colors. Those eggs were then known as "painted eggs".

They would throw these painted eggs into the river and let them float downstream. People downstream would then try to get and eat them. The eggs were believed to help women conceive children.

Later, people began to eat eggs during the Qingming Festival. Eating eggs during the Qingming Festival is said to help one keep healthy throughout the year.

10. Holding Tug of War Game

The tug-of-war game originated in the late Spring and Autumn periods over 2000 years ago. It was initially popular in the military.  During the reign of Tang Xuanzong in the Tang Dynasty, a large-scale tug-of-war competition was held during the Qingming Festival. From then on, the game gradually evolved into a folk custom associated with the festival.

11. Playing Cuju Game

Cuju is the earliest form of football in the world. Cuju refers to an ancient leather ball filled with feathers. The ball's surface is made of leather. Cuju was a popular game during the ancient Qingming Festival. 

During the Qingming Festival, the climate became warm and everything was refreshing. 

after experiencing a cold winter, when the peach blossoms and willow greens come back again, no one wants to stay inside anymore and everyone wants to go out and enjoy themselves. This is how "Qingming Cuju" came into being. 

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