Article by : SPI Yasser
Qingming 2014 falls on Saturday, 5 April 2014. Due to different traditions in different places, some celebrate the Tomb Sweeping on the Qing Ming day itself, while for some Chinese, the date for celebration depends on family decision, any day from 21 March 2014 to 5 April 2014 is allowed.
Qingming means Clear and Bright and refers to the clear and sunny spring weather that comes around this time. It is traditionally a time for family descendents to tend to the graves of their departed ancestors and to make offerings of food, incense, and paper offerings such as spirit money and paper replicas of material goods.
Temples, both Buddhist and Taoist, also perform ceremonies at this time to dedicate spiritual merit to the deceased ancestors of sponsors. Families take this opportunity to clean and inspect the gravesite by removing any weeds or trash, pruning and replacing any nearby trees and plants if necessary, and looking to see if any damage to the tombstone needs repair. The upkeep and maintenance of the gravesite is considered an important responsibility of family descendents and reflects the deep cultural values of ancestor veneration and filial piety of the Chinese people. Thus, this day is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day (掃墓日 Saomu Ri), and some people in the West describe it as “Ancestors Day,” “Chinese Memorial Day,” or “Spring Remembrance Day.”
Qingming Festival is celebrated by people of Chinese ancestry in countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, China and Vietnam. Some people carry willow branches with them on Qingming, or put willow branches on their gates and/or front doors. They believed that willow branches help ward off lost and mischievous souls that wander around on Qingming.
Other practices during Qingming that are not that common in Singapore but are common elsewhere, include family outings, family get-togethers, clan feats, starting spring plowing, singing, dancing, starting courting between young people, and flying kites in the shapes of animals or characters from Chinese opera.
Historically, Qingming originated from Hanshi Day, a memorial day for Jie Zitui where only cold food is eaten. Jie Zitui ( c636 BC) was one of many followers of Duke Wen of Jin. Once, during Wen’s 19 years of exile, they had no food and Jie prepared some meat soup for Wen. Wen enjoyed it a lot and wondered where Jie had obtained the soup. It turned out Jie had cut a piece of meat from his own thigh to make the soup.
In c732 BC, Emperor Xuanzong of China sought to curb the practice of extravagant and ostentatiously expensive ceremonies in honor of their ancestors, and declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestors’ graves only on Qingming.
The Qingming Festival in Malaysia and Singapore normally starts early in the morning (in the 10 days preceding and succeeding Qingming Day) by paying respect to distant ancestors from China at home altars. This is followed by visiting the graves of their close relatives.
The ritual starts with praying to the Earth God and offering him some food to eat. The next step would be to offer prayers and food to their dear departed. Families would then ask for worldly wishes from the dear departed. It is believed that ancestors will protect their descendants from the other world, and as such will try to grant the wishes of the living. Finally, families will burn paper money as offerings to their dear departed. It is believed that the departed need money and other material possessions in the afterlife too. It is for this very reason that paper iPads, houses, cars and such are burnt during Seventh Month (and sometimes on Qingming).
On Qingming, some report seeing their departed returning to Earth. Some others report being touched and disturbed in other ways by lost souls. Lost souls are deceased who do not receive prayers from their descendants and as such wander around creating mischief. However, reports of these paranormal activities are few and far between. Such reports are more common during the Seventh Month, also known as the Hungry Ghost Month.
One paranormal issue of contention during Qingming is whether or not families should bring back the food that was offered to their ancestors to eat later at home. While many families do so, some believe that this food is not supposed to be consumed by the living. The deceased are of “Yin” energy while the living are “Yang” energy. When food are offered to “Yin” entities their energy are transferred to the food which indirectly when the living consumes it they also take in the “Yin” energy. A living person who ingests the “Yin” energy of the dead might feel agitated, drained, exhausted or encounter some obstacles in life.
This logic follows from the practice of NOT eating food which is offered to ghosts or spirits during the Seventh Month. As a corollary, it is argued, food offered to ancestors should also not be eaten.
Qingming is an integral part of Chinese societies worldwide. It is a day of remembrance of dear departed, and a day of reflection for the living. Paranormal activities are not widely a feature of this day, as compared to the more “fertile” Seventh Month.