Author Archive
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tomb Sweeping Festival


This piece is a cultural tradition that the subject was introduced to through her family, and that she has done since her childhood.


AQ: So… once a month—I mean not once a month, I think it’s once a year… um, I think a lot of Chinese families, what they do is they go to the cemetery.  I think that it’s called Tomb Sweeping Festival, and what happens is you go there and then um you kinda like bring food for your ancestors or whoever has passed away.  You bring incense sticks and you put them in the ground and then you also, um, lay out food for them to eat in their afterlife.  And there’s also like a huge trash can that we have, alright, and what we do is we usually burn a lot of money.  And then, ok it sounds very, like, Satanic but it’s not. But yeah, so you burn money, and it’s supposed to—I think they called it hell money, but I don’t really know—and then it’s supposed to also be for them in the afterlife, and then sometimes you also burn clothing, watches, cellphones, and whatever for them to use.

JM: So all this stuff you’re burning is for them to use?

AQ: Yeah, like, later on—wherever they are now.

JM: And you’ve done this?

AQ: Yeah, I do—like I, well I haven’t done it the past two years because of college, but I’ve done it every year.


This conversation was recorded during an in-person conversation with the subject, where I asked them if there were any special traditions or customs that their family followed.


The subject seems to have an interesting relationship with the piece of folklore that they are describing—it is evidently something that they are not completely confident about their knowledge of, yet it is still something that they participate in.  As a side note, what is called the ‘Tomb Sweeping Festival’ here seems to be most commonly referred to in English as ‘Tomb Sweeping Day’.  This folk custom does not seem to have any heavy spiritual associations for the subject, though it may have taken on new meanings as a yearly tradition that connects families to their cultural past, both literally through their ancestors and through the traditional practice of ancestor veneration..

For another version of this piece, see:

Song, Li. The Tomb-Sweeping Day. Paths International Ltd., 2015: Pg 138.