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Halloween: From a Chinese perspective

Day to honor the dead a more serious holiday

Mary Stempky, Reporter

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As Halloween — the annual event that at least in part honors the dead — students from China have a different perspective on the approaching holiday and note that in China, a similar but more serious holiday takes place in the spring.  

At the end of every October, children dress up as ghosts, superheroes and princesses. Parents take them out trick-or-treating. However, half way across the world in China, the holiday that is celebrated earlier in the year also celebrates death. It is called the Quingming festival or the tomb sweeping festival.

In an email, Chinese teacher Ms. Echo Wu said the tomb sweeping festival happens in the spring. The holiday was made national by the Chinese government. “(Tomb sweeping festival) is not similar to Halloween except that (it is) related to death,” Wu said.

A stark contrast between Halloween and the Tomb Sweeping Festival lies in the seriousness of the holiday.

According John Chai, junior and co-president of the Chinese Club, the Chinese do not celebrate the holiday. “It’s a memory of relatives who (have died). You can go to their tomb and put out food that they like when they were alive,” Chai said.

“It’s more serious festival. It’s not like Halloween. You can’t go out and trick-or treat,” Olivia Han, junior and co-president of the Chinese Club said.

The solemnity of the holiday comes from the importance placed upon honoring your ancestors in Chinese culture.

According to Wu, when Chinese show respect for the dead, it is a serous occasion and is not as festive as is Halloween in the western world. “(It is) more of a family event,” Wu said. Families during this festival go to the tombs of their ancestors to pay tribute to them. There are different ways in which one can do this.

According to Han, they wish their ancestors a good life in heaven. “(People) will burn whatever (the ancestors) need or (they) think (they) need,” Han said.

Some of the sacrificed items include food, clothes and even paper money.

According to Han, she said that families draw an open circle in front of the tomb. According to Chai, the open part of the circle is in the direction of the birth sign. “Twelve is to the north,” Chai said.

Children hear stories of their ancestors while at the tomb.

According to Wu, family members recount stories of the family to the children when they go to the tomb.  This allows the younger generation to be aware of the past. “(Tomb sweeping) is an important for young family members to understand the family history and then pass it down from generation to generation,” Wu said

According to Chai, the festival originated in memory of a historian, “But as time goes by it’s for everyone,” Chai said.

Although the Chinese may have a different holiday to commemorate the dead, they still are aware of Halloween. According to both Chai and Han, Halloween is acknowledged by the Chinese. However, they do not have any formal celebration. “(The Chinese) do not do anything for (Halloween),” Han said.

Although the Chinese holiday differs much from the western holiday, Wu said that she believes people should experience it. According to Wu, she said Quingming is not the typical holiday celebrated with laughs. She said, “It is an important part of the Chinese culture.”

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