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Home » LIFESTYLE » ‘Qing Ming Festival’ aka Chinese Picnic at the Cemetery

‘Qing Ming Festival’ aka Chinese Picnic at the Cemetery

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.

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Posted by on Apr 5 2011. Filed under LIFESTYLE. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

11 Comments for “‘Qing Ming Festival’ aka Chinese Picnic at the Cemetery”

  1. This is so sad. I didn’t even know it was Qingming this week.

  2. I have been going to the Cypress Hills cemetery for my grandparents on and off for almost 30 years! Lots of memories as a child in the cemetery looking for stones to hold down the offerings and long sticks used to stir up the ashes for burning the Hell notes! At least once a year it’s nice to be with family and remember our deceased relatives and as you put it… share a picnic with their spirits.

    • What a coincidence. My paternal grandfather is also buried in Cypress Hills.

      • Both of my maternal grandparents and one of my great-grandfathers are buried there as well. I was doing some research on “family traditions and rituals” for my English course. Funny how that works.

  3. I am a New Yorker who had never been to Asia util 2004 when a most
    unusual and fortunate set of circumstances changed my life. I now
    reside in mainland China for seven months of each year. Until my
    arrival here I’d never heard of Tomb Sweeping or Qing Ming as it is
    known in Chinese. Now, of course, I am very familiar with it because
    my hosts here in China go to the tombs of their ancestors each year.
    What really amazed me was to learn via this wonderful new OUR CHINATOWN blog is that the custom is observed in New York. I wonder where one can purchase the paper money and objects used for
    burning – in Chinatown, I assume? Thanks so much for this most
    enlightening article and for adding to my own personal knowledge of life
    in NYC’s Chinatown.

    • Hi Lee, yes there are many small specialty ‘paper burning’ shops in Chinatown. They are usually located near the funeral parlors in Chinatown, around the Columbus park area.

  4. We just had “walk the mountain” annual event this past weekend. It”s always nice to get together with siblings and family to honor our deceased and share the latest family news.

  5. Damn. I missed it this year. I didn’t grow up with this holiday, but I’d like to observe it. Mom’s buried in a Catholic cemetery, but like many around here there are a lot of Chinese where the feng shui is good. Actually, Iris Chang is not far from Mom. I will have to timeshift and go this weekend.

  6. We all had to celebrate the Qing Ming Festival (“walk the mountain”) as we all were growing up. But does anyone know the story or history how this all started. I know we go to honor the dead but…..?

    • Hi Pat, good question. My cousins and I (all ABCs) have asked our parents about the origins of ‘Han San/Walk the mountain,’ but all we got was ‘to honor the dead.’ It appears to be a very old tradition that alot of people are unaware of its history/origins. Here’s what I found on a Wikipedia search.

      “Qingming has a tradition stretching back more than 2,500 years.[4] Its origin is credited to the Tang Emperor Xuanzong in 732. Wealthy citizens in China were reportedly holding too many extravagant and ostentatiously expensive ceremonies in honour of their ancestors. Emperor Xuanzong, seeking to curb this practice, declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestors’ graves only on Qingming.”

  7. Nothing beats standing around, freezing ur pituty off eating cold food.

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