Qingming (清明) is the first important date after Chinese New Year in the Asian culture and, interestingly, the holiday always coincides with Easter, as the date of both holidays is based on the lunar calendar.
Like Easter, the holiday deals with life and death, but rather that of ancestors and loved ones. Those celebrating the holiday will commemorate their ancestors and deceased relatives by visiting grave sites, sometimes lining up for train tickets to visit cemeteries as a family.
Historically, families would sit together and fold small squares of paper into shapes (yuan bao 元宝) like those resembling gold and silver money that were used before coins.
These yuan baos are put into large bags (about the size of a large trash bag) with the recipient's name written on top. Families will bring these to the gravesite to be burnt, sending the yuan baos to their ancestors. The more bags the better!
Families will also bring along food, mostly fruit, and flowers to be left at the gravesite. With the advancement of our technology, our traditions also have seen upgrades. Now, paper money (even greenbacks), paper houses, paper Mercedes Benz cars, and cell phones etc. are sold to be burnt to send to deceased family members.
And as with any special day, there must be special food. The qing tuan (青团) is a pastry for this day going on sale about 10 days before Quingming and lasting until a week after.
The qing tuan is about the size of a ping pong ball, but rectangular in shape and is made with a special herb (艾) that is mashed to produce a vivid green juice that is mixed with a glutinous rice flour and then steamed. This special herb comes into season during the spring and has a fragrant smell of fresh grass.
In the middle of the pastry, there is a sweet red bean paste filling. The pastry serves a practical function as well: when you see the qing tuan in the market, you know it is the time to visit the graves.
The annual tradition is not as widely known as the New Year celebration, but it is one that is just as important to the Chinese as the New Year.