‘Qing Ming Festival’ aka Chinese Picnic at the CemeteryLIFESTYLE Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Pearly Huang, staff reporter
The Qing Ming Festival (清明節) or more commonly known as Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese holiday that celebrates the arrival of springtime and the remembrance of ancestors. Families typically visit and tend to grave sites the month following the Lunar New Year and days before the Spring Equinox.
[pullshow]This tradition has been continued in the United States. [pullthis]While there are no cemeteries in Chinatown, there are several majority Chinese populated grave sites in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.[/pullthis] Or in the case of my family, my maternal grandfather’s site is in Mount Pleasant of Westchester county.
These past few weekends have been particularly busy for the restaurants in Chinatown because it is traditional to bring whole roast pigs to be offered at the tombs. A typical roast pig around 20-30 pounds can range between $150 – $200. Other food items to be brought include whole steamed chicken, white/yellow sugar cakes (bok/wong tong go), oranges and other fruits. Rice wine is also poured on the ground for the dead.
The other major tradition of Qing Ming is the burning of incense and paper products after the grave has been swept and tended too. Family members pay their respects by kowtowing (bowing) in front of the tombstone with incense in their hands and placing the incense upright in the ground. It is believed that material objects like clothes and money will still be needed in the afterlife so specialty shops in Chinatown sell these paper versions of material possessions. One can buy paper houses, paper servants, even paper iPhones, but we just stuck with the basics of paper clothing and paper shoes for my grandfather.
After the paper offerings are burned, the food items are then divided up between attending family members. It might seem strange to other cultures, that what essentially happens is a picnic at the cemetery, but not only is this not disrespectful, but strongly encouraged as this is meant to be a happy occasion of remembrance, not a somber one.
And I did enjoy spending time with my extended family…and our 25 pound roast pig and its crispy skin. I hope my grandfather enjoyed it as well, in spirit, but nonetheless with us.Tweet
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