Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ching Meng (Qing Ming) Ancestors day or all souls day

Honouring ones ancestors is a very important part of Chinese culture. In particular the Ching Meng which falls on the 14th of the third month of the Chinese calendar each year...or April 5th depending who is telling the story!. Prayers can be done 10 days either side of Ching Meng, as during this 21 days, the ancestors are allowed to come close to decedents and are able to receive blessings, food offerings and gifts as burnt offerings to last the coming year.

Often there is fire crackers let off to ward off evil spirits and there can be a party atmosphere, eating food with the ancestors, tending the grave to beautify it, build earth up higher at the back, painting the lettering or even the whole grave site and placing a message of well being under a clod of soil on top of the headstone.
                    laying out food, drink and gifts
Food and drinks are laid out and usually consumed after the ghosts have eaten and prayers with wax candles and joss sticks of various sizes placed in threes for each ancestor, the guardian angle who has its own small shrine to the left of the headstone and joss sticks placed on all nearby graves to wish them well and ask them to help watch over the love ones. Colourful boxes of paper clothes, watches and these days cars, mobile phones, tablet computers and every possible replica of things every upright ghost should have, are burnt as an offering together with pretend money, gold and silver ingots.
                                          Angel's shrine
As an aging gweilo white skinned, over weight, balding, suspect hearing and sight, idiot blundering around a massive hillside among graves, smoke, food, noise with a fist full of joss sticks in one hand and a chunkal...or dutch hoe, in the other and a pack containing food, drinks, paint and paint brushes...(no strings of bungers for me though,) trying to find an overgrown Chinese grave with only Chinese writing...which I can't read, to guide me, makes a spectacle that stops all conversation and invites stares of awe or wonderment or I don't know what.

I go blithely on my way and take delight in waving away the inevitable Indian entrepreneur with brush-cutter and hoe showing that I indeed have my own chunkal and then proceed to hack the earth around the grave, placing new clods on top and trimming the sides, finally the headstone earth clod to hold down my wife's message to her ancestors.
                                 Burning offerings
The whole hillside is a patchwork of coloured papers and mini flags, smoke from so many little fires and millions of joss sticks, sounds of fireworks, children's laughter, women's gossip, men's knowing pronouncements and whispered prayers.

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