Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ching Ming festival: 清明節

Sunday on a little island in the South China Sea is even busier than usual. Why? Ching Ming Festival, which literally translates as Pure Brightness Festival (清明節).
Commonly known in English as Grave Sweeping Day, this is one of those times to go to the cemetery and sweep and tidy up the grave. That done, it is customary to offer flowers, food (usually roast suckling pig) and drink to one's ancestors. Plus, light a bunch of incense sticks and burn some imitation paper money.
(Someone, somehow, always seems to manage to set a hillside on fire; perhaps the festival should be renamed Burn Hillside Festival?)
But what happens, you ask, to all that food and drink after the ancestor spirits have blessed it? The family has a picnic at the gravesite. Given that the festival is a way to re-connect with one's deceased ancestors, it would be, all things considered, unseemly and uncharitable to have the picnic anywhere else.
Actually, Ching Ming Festival Day is 5 April, a public holiday hereabouts. But since this is a weekend a lot of people have come over to beat the crowds. . . so a little island in the South China Sea is clogged up with the living come pay homage to the dead.

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