The Qing Ming Festival ( 清明节 ), also popularly known as the “Tomb-Sweeping Day” falls on 5th April, a Thursday this year.
During this traditional Chinese festival, Chinese families would visit the tombs or crematoriums to pay respects to their ancestors. I respect such entrenched traditions and as a Christian, I view this as a day where we remember our loved ones who has departed before us. Maybe as Christians we don’t believe in such traditions but I personally feel that it is always good to understand why people do what they do – why people have such traditions, and to respect them for that. After all, we are looking to form relationships and the very basis of relationships comes from love and that without a doubt comes with some understanding too.
My family members are mostly Taoists and they decided to visit my Ah Gong’s tomb at Chua Chu Kang Cemetery on 4th April 18. In a bit to avoid the jam and crowd, we did it on an excruciatingly warm afternoon. I am glad that I partook in this year’s tomb-sweep because this might actually be the final year to do it at Ah Gong’s original burial ground. This is due to the scarcity of our land which renders even burial plots to have limited lifespans. We were informed by the attendants at CCK Cemetery that we have to register for exhumation of the grave next year.
In my very humble opinion, such Chinese traditions have its own merits in bringing families together especially in today’s busy world. There’s always this saying that families come together only during a few odd occasions – weddings and funerals. Families gather together and bring along food (Fruits, Kueh, Meat), incense, joss sticks, paper products (Money, Mini House, Clothes, Etc) in the hope that such products would be used by the ancestors even in the afterlife. Such acts are outward expressions of love and filial piety. Having said this, please do not wait till our loved ones are gone to show such acts; we always have a choice to show our love right now and here.
Just to allow the masses to have a better understanding of what tomb-sweep entails, below would be a brief outline of what happened at the grave from my firsthand experience:
- Upon arriving, we cleaned the area around the grave and wiped the tombstone (扫墓).
- We then placed the food and fruit offerings in front of the tombstone.
- Being part of the Hokkien community, we placed coloured papers (压纸/五色紙) on the grass patch of the tombstone. These colored papers are not meant to be burnt. They actually represent roof tiles and small stones are placed on top of them. The act of placing the colored papers on top of the tombstone is symbolic of the fact that this tomb is well taken care of by the filial descendants. The paper typically have 5 colours, representing the 5 elements (Fire, Earth, Gold, Wood and Water).
- My Ah Ma, Father and 四叔 then proceed to pray and offer the fruits and food to the God of the Soil (土地公), followed by prayers to Ah Gong to tell him to bless the family and to invite him to receive the offerings.
- The paper products are then burned.
- We waited for about half an hour before Ah Gong is deemed to have had his fill, packed the food and fruits and headed back home.
My grandmother, Dad and Uncle all in one picture! Although they are people of few words with each other, in occasions like this, they all gather for a common purpose.
Look closely and you can see the coloured papers.
Burning of paper products.
My 四叔 looking intently at the grave of my Grandfather. He just seems so nostalgic and I can only wonder what type of relationship they have had.
My beloved Dad’s turn.
Close up of the food/fruit offerings and the colored papers.
Yup, that’s my Grandfather who originated from China and settled in Singapore, making coffins for a living. So apparently in ancient times, he actually handmade the coffins from scratch! Such was his grit in setting up a business in Singapore so as to provide a better future for his descendants.
Me suffering in the hot Sun. hehe.
My 老爸 who I love very much!
Just a historical background for those keen in how Qing Ming came about:
It is said to have started in the late years of the Qin Dynasty, where Liu Bang of the Han Emporer returned to his homeland to in the hopes of paying respect to his parents’ tomb after having won several wars. However, he was unable to locate the tombs as all the tombs were in a bad condition given the many years where no one was tending to them. In a desperate attempt to locate his parents’ tombs, he took out a piece of paper, torn it into small pieces, prayed to use the paper to locate the tombs and thrown the upwards. The papers were strewn upwards and a piece fell to a grave without being blown away despite the huge wind. Liu Bang went over and.. yea you guessed it! He found the tombstones of his parents’. Elated, he renovated his parents’ tombs and since then came about the annual Qing Ming Festival.
Harmony Tee <3