Apr 5, 2013

0 Tomb Sweeping Festival 2013

The Tomb Sweeping Festival falls on April 4th this year. Grave cleaning is usually carried out within the ten days before or after the actual date. We paid our respects last Sunday.

I'm usually up by 4.30am on this day...well, someone has to be first to the bathroom! ...Ok, I've an obsession about taking my "sweet, sweet time". Can I say that I'm competitive? Rushing isn't in my vocabulary, but it was in my younger days when I had lesser appreciation for the small things in life. Anyway, I had to be first because I enjoy a good shower.

We reached the cemetery before the sun rose. Our years of experience showed - a great parking spot side-by-side with other members of the family, torch-lights, good shoes, old tees and that confident stride to the ancestors' burial lots.

There was already a good crowd at the site. We walked through black muddy paths and lumps of dead brown grass, a result of mass burning done weeks before in anticipation of the festival.

We began sweeping the tomb as soon as we unpacked several prayer paraphernalia. The moon was clearly visible against the dim skies. It would have felt eerie if not for the hive of activity going on in several corners of the graveyard.

The moon
An overview - see the smoke rising from the burning of joss paper

After cleaning the area, we served food and drinks to our long gone ancestors. It was a sight to behold. We always did our best to spiff the place up. You'll understand what I mean when you see the photos below.

Food is placed on the altar

In the old days, we would carry along a grass cutter and a hoe to clear thick weeds and grass which would have amassed over the grave throughout months of neglect. Then, bags of brown soil is poured over until a nice small mound is made.

Some graves are grown with a patch of grass, some are covered with sand

Today, that small mound is now planted with a bed of soft grass. An annual fee is paid to the cemetery caretaker to maintain the lot. We no longer come like armed gardeners. You could say we have moved into modern times.

The patch of green grass is laid with joss paper, kept in place by colourful flags. Burning joss sticks are also stuck on top.

Joss paper and flags

We are quite generous

When that is done, each family member would then kneel before the ancestral grave with burning joss sticks in hand, to pay their respects.

Finally, joss paper items such as money, clothes, a car and shoes are burned. It is believed that our ancestors are still in need of these items. I look at burning as a delivery service to the afterlife.  I just hope that when my time comes, someone remembers that I would greatly appreciate something like an oven, a gas stove, cutlery sets and other kitchen items to go along with the basics ..ahem

Items for afterlife

We leave the burial ground for eldest brother's home. Here, we gather for another round of ancestral prayers. Before entering the house, we rinse our hands and face with water in a bowl laden with beautiful flowers. This is to wash away bad luck.

More joss paper is folded during this time and a good spread of food is placed in front of the altar. The same ritual is repeated to pay our respects, from kneeling to the burning of joss paper items.

Once the tasks have been completed, we take a breather to catch up on family 'gossip' and have lunch together before going on our own way.

I often enjoy coming home for this because I love the way culture binds families. It makes our lives all the more colourful with bits of unique practices that do not make sense in the modern educated world. To sum up my feelings - can't wait for next year!!!

Flower water

A bagful of folded joss paper, in the form of ancient money

Food for the ancestors

Burning of more joss paper items


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