The Winter Clothes Festival (寒衣日) falls on the first day of the tenth lunar month.
Traditionally, on this day Chinese households burn winter wear for the dead relatives and ancestors so that they can have a more comfortable winter.
In modern times, few people even notice when this festival has gone by.
Legend of winter clothing day
The origin of this day is often linked the story of a woman named Meng Jiang Nu (孟姜女).
Her husband Fan Ji Liang (范杞良) had been called up to serve the country and was sent to conduct repair works at the Great Wall. Her devoted love for her partner motivated her to travel a thousand miles just to be with him. On arrival she learned that that her spouse had died of exhaustion and was buried under a section of the wall. Devastated with grief, she cried like there’s no tomorrow at the spot where her husband was buried. Moved by her sorrow, the heavens sympathized her and segment of the wall crumbled down. It was then that she found Fan’s corpse. She proceeded to dress him up with comfortable clothing which she had brought for him and then gave him a proper burial.
The story of Meng’s actions spread far and wide as so many people were moved by what what happened. And on the first day of the 10th lunar month, which is customarily the first day of winter season, winter clothes were burned on behalf of Meng for her husband in the after life.
It must be noted that the winter clothings that were burnt were usually made of paper. The practice is mostly cultural and symbolic.
As time went by, people burned winter clothes into ashes for their ancestors too.
Customs of winter clothes festival
During ancient times when the day was still widely practiced, elders from a family would lead the whole family tree to the grave sites of ancestors. They would the collect soil with their clothes and gently pile on the tomb area. This was a ritual that was believe to call on blessing for more children to increase the numerical size of the family.
Sometimes, “winter clothing” would be crafted from colored paper that are cut into the shape of shirts and pants. Other types of apparel such as hats, gloves and shoes can also be cut out from colored paper meant for burning.
Colored paper usually consist of the five colors of purple, red, black, blue and yellow.
Other times, material such as cotton wool were also burned as they are an important component of clothing that keeps people warm during winter.
And as one would expect, the burning of paper money is also a custom that is commonly practiced.
All material must be completely burned in order for the items to make their way to hell where the receiver can receive them. Any burning that is incomplete would mean that the item wouldn’t be delivered to the underworld.
For the living, people often take this day as an opportunity to show their gratitude and care to others by gifting winter clothing to each other.