It is almost upon us again... With spring comes Ching Ming; Grave Sweeping Day in the Chinese cultural tradition. Usually falling in early April, Ching Ming is a time when families gather, often very early in the morning, and travel to the graves of their ancestors to honor and remember them.
Scrubbing an ancestor's grave stone on Ching Ming. Photo from the wonderful blog,
The graves are swept and cleaned, incense and paper objects are burned, and food and flowers are offered to the dead. The belief is that the food and paper objects are transported and transformed to meet the continuing needs of departed loved ones.
Objects such as this paper laptop computer are burned in this world and can be used by grandfather in the next.
In honoring our ancestors with gifts of food and flowers, we demonstrate that they are still important to us, just as we hope that our children will, in turn, remember us.
This custom may seem to be old fashioned superstition, and I'm sure that more than a few participants in these rituals have doubts about the burnt objects passing on to their ancestors. Similarly, some participants at Christian rituals may doubt the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Most, I'm sure, believe figuratively if not literally.
While the efficacy of these rituals may be debatable, their importance and relevance is clear to see. Gathering to honor and remember ancestors is strengthening to the family unit, a positive step through grief, and a very precious opportunity to continue a relationship, whether grandmother actually gets any of the dumplings or not.
If we think that rituals like this are wasteful or naive, we should look again at how much we miss out by ending our conversations and expressions of love with our own departed.
The loved ones we remember are people just like we are. Their form and needs may have changed to nothing, or something we cannot begin to comprehend, but for us, in our memories, they are still Ahmah, or Granny. They still like licorice, or noodles. They still have a sparkle in their eyes, and maybe talk funny when their dentures slip. These are the things we remember and celebrate and love. So it makes emotional sense for us to honor them in a way that reminds us of them. They may not need it, but we do.
Here are some wonderful and informative links for a greater understanding of Ching Ming. Enjoy!
And here are a few links to related posts on this blog: