“Huat, ah, Hing, ah, Ong, ah!”
Did you know that some Chinese families shout out these auspicious Hokkien words when they burn firecrackers at their ancestors’ graves after completing their prayers for the Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day)?
“Huat is for greater money or monetary luck, Hing is for greater happiness and further progress, and Ong refers to greater prosperity and nobility,” said feng shui master Kenny Hoo.
Some people are perplexed as to why firecrackers are burnt, and think that the din created at the graves is a disturbance to the departed. But those who burn fire crackers regard it as “a celebration”, to accumulate or welcome all the good, positive qi (energy) within the family, just like the setting off firecrackers during Chinese New Year or other auspicious occasions, Hoo explained.
“There’s also the belief that the burning of firecrackers can chase away evil spirits or negative qi.”
Hoo added that the Chinese regard Qingming (also known as Clear Brightness Day) as a very auspicious occasion because they associate it with paying respects to their dearly departed. It is also a day to show one’s gratitude.
This year, Qingming falls on April 5 (Friday) but the Chinese would sweep the tombs 10 to 14 days before or after. Weekends are the busiest because families take advantage of the holidays to perform prayers.
Contrary to myths and superstitions, the months on which this festival falls should not be regarded as “ghost months”, Hoo said.
“During Qingming, Chinese families would clear and clean the tombs of grasses and weeds, and make offerings out of respect and in remembrance of their ancestors.
“April 5 is (forecast to be) a good day with bright sunshine and good air quality. It’s also indicative of the season’s change towards summer (in the Northern Hemisphere),” said Hoo.
On this day, Hoo said, some Chinese consider it good to head to the parks or nearby lakes or ponds, to refresh the body and absorb good qi. This “ritual” is called “Stepping the Green”. Previously, Qingming was also called the “Stepping the Green Festival” as it is a good time for outings with childhood friends and relatives, to appreciate the beautiful scenery of spring when trees grow fully and flowers start to blossom.
Traditionally, after gravesite prayers (in Chinese villages) on this day, Chinese families would take a walk in the forests and parks, or have outings with friends, to refresh body and soul, he said.
Hoo cited Qingming Festival as one of four major Chinese festivals, besides Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat (Dumpling) Festival and Mooncake Festival. These festivals are related to togetherness and completeness. Qingming “may even be a bigger reunion of family members” , said Hoo, who met up with relatives during Qingming prayers in Kuala Krau near Jerantut, Pahang, recently.
This festival also emphasises filial piety.
“It is a day to remember our ancestors and pass on good values to the younger generation,” Hoo said, adding that during or after gravesite prayers, the descendants would eat the food that has been offered to the departed. It is like a family picnic.
Friendly banter would be focussed on the ancestors, to remind everyone present about the ancestors’ good deeds or greatness. Such a conversation also serves to remind the young to be respectful of the elderly.
“It’s also a time to motivate the young to study hard for a better future as Chinese culture is also about self-motivation, perseverance, endurance and self-control,” said Hoo.
Hoo said, traditionally, families would go for prayers at tomb sites early in the morning for several reasons. Some families have to rush to a few sites to offer prayers on the same day. Or the location of the tombs could be a great distance away.
Burning of paper gifts to the ancestors is a common practice at gravesites. Some Chinese hope that the departed get to enjoy these gifts.
As for dreams about the departed not wearing shoes or wearing tattered clothes, Hoo said that some of these dreams do not necessarily mean that the dead need shoes or new clothes and the living should burn paper gifts of shoes and clothes for them.
Or if someone dreamt that an ancestor is looking for another deceased kin, one may think the deceased seeks their help to find the other dead relative.
“Sometimes, it could be a sign to the descendants to inspect the tomb or columbarium to see if it is in a good state or whether it needs repairs,” said Hoo.
At the end of the prayers, normally families would eat the prayer foods at the gravesite and take home the remaining food.
“If a roast pig is offered to the ancestors, then the family members would divide it among themselves, as if they were gifts or treasures given by the ancestors to all the descendants equally,” Hoo said.