The worship of a person’s ancestors is a tradition in China that dates back thousands of years. Also referred to as the Spring Remembrance or, in some areas, Grave-sweeping, the day of Ching Ming is a time when families in Macau show respect to those who have passed away.
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During Ching Ming, which translates to “clear and bright,” individuals visit the resting places of their ancestors to make offerings of fruit and wine, as well as other food items, spend time touching up inscriptions on the gravestones, and clear away any weeds or other debris that have accumulated near the graves.
The family members may also arrange fresh flowers and place three glasses of wine in front of the gravestone. They also might burn paper objects and joss sticks. This is done because the Chinese believe the dead then receive these burned items on “the other side.” Cellular phones, mahjong sets, money, and even paper cars are all often burnt.
Those visiting the grave may also present fruit, roast piglets, chicken, hard boiled eggs, and other foods to the deceased; however, these items don’t go to waste. In most situations, the day ends with a large family feast.
History of the Ching Ming Festival
The Ching Ming Festival is considered one of the 24 different segments of the Chinese calendar. It typically falls on the fourth or fifth of April. The reason it falls on one of these two days is because it is dependent on the Cold Food Day, which occurs exactly 105 days after the previous winter solstice.
In the past, the celebration of Ching Ming lasted for a period of three days after the Cold Food Day. However, this day was shortened to just a single day and then abandoned altogether. As a result, today, Cold Food Day and Ching Ming occur on the same day, even though no one recognises Cold Food Day any longer.
What Happens During the Ching Ming Festival?
On Ching Ming, large family groups, typically led by the eldest son set out to pay their respects to those who have passed away. During the festivities, many activities occur, including:
- Cleaning of the gravestones of ancestors
- Replacing wilted flowers with new, fresh ones
- Weeding of the area around the gravestone
- Burning of imitation paper money and other items
- Lighting of incense
- Food presented at the graves
When the family first reaches the grave, the ritual begins by the head of the household bowing three different times while holding a cup of wine. Then the wine is poured on the ground, right in front of the headstone. After that, every member of the family approaches the headstone, one at a time, and bows (also three times) with their right fist cupped inside of the left hand. At this point, some family members retreat to their home to eat, while others stay and have a picnic near their ancestor’s grave. According to Chinese legend, when you eat the food that was offered to the deceased, it results in good luck.
Some families also bring firecrackers with them to the grave and set them off. The firecrackers are set off to try and scare away evil spirits and to let the deceased know they are present to pay their respects.