Yesterday was Qingming Festival, a national holiday in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China for honoring one's ancestors. On Qingming, families gather to bai san, literally translated as kowtow to the mountain, a nod to the feng shui belief that the most auspicious grave sites face water and rest along a mountain side.
|Tsuen Wan Chinese Permanent Cemetery, where my grandfather is buried|
Although I have not returned to Hong Kong in 30 years, I still remember the importance of Qingming festival, which falls on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese calendar, or 15 days after the vernal equinox, either April 4th or 5th, depending on a given year. In Cantonese, four is a homonym for death, so the fourth day of the fourth month was always a spooky mnemonic for me.
My family--siblings, parents, uncles, aunt, cousins, grandmother--hiked up many concrete steps carved into a mountain, bearing elaborate food and libation to offer to the spirit of my grandfather, buried in Tsuen Wan, and my great grandmother, buried in Chai Wan. Although I was scared of ghosts and hated the long trek up the seemingly never-ending steps of the mountain, it was a fun holiday filled with shenanigans between cousins, as we pretended to be mules carrying provisions into the desert to save many lives. A roast pig was involved, so we took turns as pall bearers to piggy, an offering to our departed ancestors, along with Hennessy XO cognac, fruits, and other delectables. When it came to food, we did not play around. Mountain or no, feasting was the promised reward.
Along the way, the grown ups would inevitably retell famous family stories of how grandfather did not condone laziness or insolence one bit, that just one glare from grandfather and you knew to shape up or else.
When we finally reached our destination, we swept the grave, lay out the offerings, burned spirit money and incense, and one by one, took turns kowtowing three times to show our respect to ancestors. And then came the reward for trekking up the mountain: FEAST!
I have not celebrated Qingming in 30 years, but in two weeks, my family will be convening at my beloved grandmother's final resting spot, also on a mountain--yes, feng shui really matters!--to begin a new North American tradition of honoring our ancestors. I can barely wait.