Today is Qingming (or Ching Ming) Festival. Ching Ming literally translates to “clean and bright/ intelligent,” and in Western culture it’s known as the Chinese holiday where Asians go and clean tombs. It’s a public holiday in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and some Southeast Asian countries. And yes, while weeding the tomb area, applying cleaning solution, removing bird poop and making it as pretty as possible is something I do, it’s more than just that. With age, this ritualized holiday (which once represented an embarrassing chore that differentiated me from others) has become one of my most valued customs and favorite holidays.
Growing up, this meant that I’d be given a free pass. I’d be taken out of school so that we can visit my dad. My mom and grandma would prep the ceremonial offerings (chicken, pork, sticky rice, tea, wine). My grandpa would gather the faux money, incense, paper replicas of cars, homes, jewelry, all things that we’d burn while at the cemetery. The paper replicas represent how we want to ensure that we still want them to be “taken care of.” Once we arrive to the cemetery, we start by cleaning the tomb…weeding it, polishing it, and adding floral arrangements. Once we are done detailing the tomb stone, it’s time to burn the paper replicas, light incense and start with prayer and when the prayer is completed, we share a few bites and picnic there. This process is representative of how we still honor the deceased and how we think of them and continue to have well wishes for them.
It wasn’t until about fifteen years after my dad’s death that my mom would come with us. My grandparents took leadership and had this down. Us kids, we’d know to do our part and followed their orders. I remember being sixteen when my mom decided to come and join us. There was no announcement, nothing said. She just came and I was very…I don’t know the right words, but I was relieved to know that she can participate too! To me, this meant that my mom was in a stronger position and able to accept my dad’s passing.
This past weekend, we visited my dad and grandparents at the cemetery. Now that my grandparents are deceased, mom prepares the ceremonial offerings. My siblings and I, we all have different tasks. One gathers all the paper replicas, the other gathers all the incense, I bring the flowers, gardening tools, and cleaning solution. All of the nieces and nephews, they gather and are excited and follow orders. My fifteen year old niece, Crystal, she said that she doesn’t understand all these rituals (the paper burning, the incense, the chicken). I completely get it. She reluctantly follows the orders. She reminds me a lot of me when I was her age. It wasn’t the right place or time to get into the conversation about what this means. With age, she’ll get it.
My mom led the prayer. Tony asked me what she said. So I had to do my best to translate:
She said, “Today is Qingming. We have not and we do not forget about you. We think of you each and every day. You should be happy and would be very proud of all that you created. Look at your grandkids. They’re all here. Everyone, we are all here to honor you. We are all here to light incense in honor of you. We brought you food and hope you enjoy the tea and rice wine. Be sure to continue to watch over all of us (your kids, your grandkids). Keep them healthy, safe and secure and ensure that they continue to be good people. The same way that they do for you.”
Beyond the sweeping of the tomb, Qingming is about honoring the lives of our loved ones and remembering our ancestors. In a selfish way, it’s also a reminder of how fortunate we are that they’re watching over us and how we have the opportunity to live the life that we want to live. I cannot help but think who would be there to honor me one day? Who would be there to remember me? What would be said? What would my legacy be?