Qingming, Tomb Sweeping Day for the Chinese traditionally falls on the fifth day of April, but this year is the fourth of April due to Chinese leap year. While celebrated culturally by Chinese for centuries, Qingming returned as a nationally mandated holiday in China last year (2008) for the first time since 1949.
Qingming marks the time Chinese are supposed to honor and remember their ancestors at their grave sites. The Qingming Festival itself was created by Tang Emperor Xuanzong in 732. Emperor Xuanzong declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestor’s graves only on Qingming to reduce the amount of money spent throughout the year by the wealthy to honor the deceased.
During Qingming many Chinese follow a custom of burning paper money (joss paper) and other necessary items made of paper for the deceased to have in the afterlife. Traditionally this could have been paper cars, houses, and clothes. More recently this has been expanded to include luxury items such as the paper treadmill depicted here, as well as elaborate paper evening gowns and other new hits like paper dentures.
For me, Qingming means the first visit to my mother’s grave since we buried her in January of this year. I’ve already been to temple for seven sevens (49th day after death), and will probably go for the 100th day as well, but I haven’t yet visited the grave site. It has been more than 2 months since her passing, but I still can’t find the energy to tackle the little things that have to be done, like canceling her credit cards, or finishing emptying her room. I think part of me doesn’t want the finality of those events to sink in, so I’ve been putting them off, refusing to think about the remaining tasks at hand.
While I know I will be at my mom’s grave site tomorrow, I doubt either of my sisters will have remembered, and I wonder when I’m gone, whether my daughter will remember this Chinese tradition. I’m the only one in my family who has ties to the past and ties to the future. My mom was the glue to the past in the family when she lived, and now that she’s gone, I find myself the glue, holding together what pieces are left.
So if you’ve lost someone, and you’re of Chinese ancestry, think about honoring a Chinese tradition. Spend some time tomorrow, at the graveside if you can, but if not, at least find some time to have a moment during your day to honor your loved one.