This weekend is a holiday weekend for many families in Taiwan because this Wednesday (I think) is Tomb Sweeping Day, which has become a family trip to the ancestor’s graves to tidy them up, burn offerings to the ancestor’s spirits, and perform other animistic rituals… generally similar to what Mulan does in the Disney movie.
This Sunday morning’s service had over an hour dedicated to a memorial of all the deceased members from the last several years. The talk was about how, “God loves memorials” and wants us to honour the memory of our ancestors. There was nice music, and a woman talked about each person’s life as pictures from their life were shown on the screen. The choir led some special songs. Many people, old and young, were crying throughout the pews. Mingdaw’s father was among those remembered. I was looking forward to seeing how the community handled this particular holiday, since fundamental aspects of Tomb Sweeping Day directly clash with their convictions.
the belief that personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces have power over human affairs and, consequently, that human beings must discover what beings and forces are influencing them in order to determine future action and, frequently, to manipulate their power.
are “feared, respected, and venerated because they are specifically remembered and are part of the extended family. Ghosts, on the other hand, are those spirits of the dead who are disappearing into the past and are no longer individually remembered by their families.” [Ancestors are called] “the living dead” and ghosts “the dead dead.”
The Chinese respect for filial piety and careful attention to funeral rites is visibly manifested in the custom of ancestor worship. Since ancient times, a day has been designated for sweeping the tomb and honoring one’s ancestors. …
Tomb Sweeping Day … has retained its deep meaning in modern Chinese society, as the numerous families carrying out cleaning and worship rites at cemeteries during this time will testify. The [Taiwan] Central Government Prayer Service is also held on this day, amply evidencing the deep respect with which the Chinese view their roots.
Since most cemeteries are located on hillsides in the countryside or outskirts of town, upon completing the Tomb Sweeping Day rites, many families will take advantage of the fine spring weather by going on a family outing. These trips have become an important part of Tomb Sweeping Day as a time for families to enjoy time together.
The foods offered on Tomb Sweeping Day vary by region. In Taiwan, the most common dishes are the distinctive ” grave cakes” and jun ping.
Tomb Sweeping Day combines the people’s reverence for their ancestors and for nature and is a reaffirmation of the Chinese ethic of filial piety. Today, Tomb Sweeping Day is a time not only for worship and maintaining the tombs of ancestors, but also a tangible expression of filial respect for the teachings and virtues of forebears.
For more about Tomb Sweeping Festival, including photos and more info, browse the Tomb Sweeping Festival (清明节) category, or see:
- Tomb Sweeping Festival 清明节 2011 photos from Nankai, Tianjin, China
- Tomb Sweeping Day (清明节) 2010 in Tianjin
- Sending Winter Clothes to the Dead in Tianjin
- There’s hell to pay