Halloween is gaining a foothold in China, with malls and grocery stores cashing in on the American holiday. Zombies took over Happy Valley amusement park in Beijing, bloody pictures have flooded the Chinese internet, and even TWOC office is getting in on the action.
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But, did you know that China has its own ghost festival today? It’s called the Winter Clothing Festival. Rather than making winter clothes, this holiday is meant for fire, more specifically, burning paper clothes for one’s ancestors. After today, the weather is going to get colder and colder, so people burn clothes to keep their loved ones warm in the hereafter.
Similar with Halloween in a way, the Winter Clothing Festival is regarded as a ghost festival, one of four (the other three are Shangsi Festival, Tomb-sweeping Day, and Zhongyuan Festival or Ghost Day). There are different versions of the origins of the Winter Clothing Festival, but the most popular one is a love story.
In the Qin Dynasty, there were two childless families, one surnamed Meng and the other one surnamed Jiang. One year, the two families planted a gourd around their mutual fence, and when the gourd matured, they found a pretty baby girl inside. They named the girl Meng Jiang Nǚ, meaning the daughter the of Meng and Jiang family. Gradually, the girl grew into a beautiful and kind woman, and fell in love with a handsome young man named Fan Qiliang. They got married, but just three days after their wedding, Fan was taken by officials to build the Great Wall.
Meng Jiang Nǚ didn’t hear any news from her husband for almost a year and then one day, she dreamed that her husband was freezing on the wall. When she woke up, she began to make winter clothes for him. And then she started off to find her husband, which was of course a dangerous expedition. When she finally arrived at the foot of the Great Wall, she was told that her husband had already died. Meng Jiang Nǚ was so heartbroken and she could help but cry. To everyone’s surprise, when she began shedding tears, the Great Wall began to fall apart. She kept crying, and the Great Wall continued to collapse, until the body of her husband was revealed. This is one of China’s Four Great Love Stories (the other three being The Legend of Niulang and Zhinǚ, The Legend of White Snake and the Butterfly Lovers) .
This story became the inspiration for the Winter Clothes Day, and “burning winter clothes on October 1st” (十月初一烧寒衣) (the first on the Chinese lunar calendar) became a tradition in Northern China.
Cover Image from rili.com.cn