Falling on the third lunar month of the Chinese calendar, each year thousands of people across Hong Kong, Singapore and other areas of Asia Pacific come together to celebrate the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day. The Qingming Festival is over 2500 years old and is a quiet, family-focused holiday without elaborate decorations or public celebrations.
The event is important in Chinese culture as it shows respect to ancestors as locals will sweep and maintain the graves of former family members by weeding, touching up headstone inscriptions, make offerings of food and light incense, as well as burning joss paper to honour the dead. Symbolically, a clean gravesite lets your relatives know that they remain in your thoughts.
After families have swept the gravesite they tend to lay out an array of dishes featuring pork, roast duck, chicken, rice, wine and tea in front of the graves as further offerings. It is common for families to often have picnics in the countryside during Qingming playing games and flying kites. Some people cut the string to let the kite fly freely as it is believed that this custom can bring good luck and eliminate diseases. Chinese people are encouraged to head outdoors and take a springtime outing known as taqing.
FDMers across China, Hong Kong and Singapore will be out of the office today to spend time with their families and to get involved with activities and rituals throughout the day.
Yvonne Ng from FDM’s Hong Kong office shares some insights into what her and her family do during Qingming Festival:
“Before grave sweeping, we first refer to Tongsheng (a Chinese divination guide and almanac), choose a date that’s suitable for grave sweeping, then inform our relatives on the agreed date and time. Once the date is set, we prepare flowers, incense, joss paper that has been folded into an ingot shape, paper products (like clothes, houses, workers, daily necessities, that are made of paper), a suckling pig, a chicken, cakes, tea, wine, our ancestor’s favourite food and tableware like wine glasses, teacups and chopsticks.
On the day of grave sweeping, since our ancestor’s tombs are up on the mountain and cars can’t park, we have to walk for about ten minutes on a trail to get to the tombs.
Once we arrive, the relatives who are offering the Tai Sui have to step aside (as this is bad luck this Lunar New Year) and the rest of the group go ahead and clean the grave, weeding and wiping down the tombstones. Then we put flowers in the vase, ignite the incense sticks and put out all the food and drink that has been bought. When everything is ready, relatives who are Fan Tai Sui can come back and start the worship ritual. Each of us hold three incense sticks, and take turns to kneel down in front of our ancestor’s tombstone to worship. Afterwards we burn the paper offerings and ask our ancestor to receive them. After the fire is extinguished, we libate the wine and tea, and kneel down again in front of our ancestor’s tombstone. That’s the end of worship ceremony. Everyone then packs up all the items and we enjoy a family dinner together.
Traditional Chinese festivals have significant meaning. I think that the Qingming Festival not only preserves the traditional Chinese culture of filial piety, but is also a good opportunity to bring the family closer and strengthen the relationships amongst one and other.
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