Qing Ming

18 March 2011 - 5:45am Comments Off

With the Qing Ming festival fast approaching, what is it really all about? What do the rituals represent, and why do people gather every year to pay their respects to loved ones long deceased? Kok Wah Ying writes about her experiences, in the run-up to one of the largest most widely-celebrated Chinese celebrations.

Qing Ming, which means clear and bright in Chinese, falls on 5 April this year. It is both the fifth term in the traditional lunar calendar and a festival to commemorate our deceased loved ones. It is a time to express one’s grief for his / her lost relatives.

During the Qing Ming festival, relatives of the dead will visit the tombs, and make offerings, as well as sweep the tombs

I recall that when I was young, my family members who lived in other states would rush home to pay respect to our ancestors’ tombs. The Qing Ming Festival is the time for us to remember and appreciate our ancestors’ kindness, as well as offering items such as incense for them.

As a child, I was often asked to carry the flowers which were going to be offered; chrysanthemum was the primary choice of flower. Foods such as roasted duck, steamed chicken, fruit, and wine were also offered…and of course who could forget the feast that followed, eating everything after they had been offered! Through the feasting and coming together to pay respects to our ancestors, Qing Ming is also a period of time when the family can reconnect with one another.

The Chinese believe in offering items such as incense, joss sticks, as well as paper offerings. These paper offerings are made to look like money, which are then turned into a variety of shapes such as paper clothes, paper cars and even paper houses! How elaborate these offerings are really depend on how serious one’s family is with this tradition. What is consistent between all families however, is that the paper offerings are burned in the graveyard, as it is believed that the family’s deceased relatives will be able to receive the offerings in this manner.

Offering such as burning paper money, or paper cars are made

With over 2500 years of history, the Qing Ming Festival is considered to be the most important day for people to make offerings of both material items and their time, in order to show their respects. The timing of Qing Ming also has other associations, for example with the onset of spring. During this time, many people believe that they will be protected from bad luck and diseases during the coming year if they fly kites, have picnics, play cuju (Chinese football), polo and tug-of-war.

However with the concept of environmental protection deeply rooted in modern society, it is now the trend to have an environmentally-friendly tomb sweeping day, as Qing Ming is sometimes known. This involves activities such as carrying out a public memorial ceremony, and showing commemoration through means such as the Internet.

The internet has recently become more influential in the Qing Ming Festival, in relation to making offerings and paying respects

For us Buddhists, there is an even more environmentally-friendly and effective way to pay our respects to our ancestors. During Qing Ming, we can seek protection and blessing from Three Jewels and dedicate the merits to our ancestors directly. In this way, we can ensure our loved ones have a better rebirth, whilst leaving less of a carbon footprint on the earth…

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