This week highlights the climax of Qing Ming Festival because of the long weekend of Good Friday. The actual day was 4 April, to be precise it is on the 15th day of the 3rd lunar month. Traditionally, it is celebrated 10 days before until 10 days after the actual date (that means 21 days out of the 3rd lunar month).
Yesterday, on Good Friday holiday, my family, my mother went to make offerings of food and traditional objects to my late father at Mandai Columbarium. The usually deserted columbarium located near Singapore Zoological Garden was packed with long queue of cars. I feel very warm-hearted that the festival is not forgotten and able to pass down over generations. I brought my kids along. Others also brought children with them.
Qing Ming Festival, literally translated to Clear Bright Festival. It is in fact Tomb Sweeping Festival, a traditional Chinese ritual for the living to fulfill duties of paying tribute to the departed. It is a time when the living remember and honour the departed by prayers, sweeping their tombs and making offerings. Besides Singapore, the festival is also observed in Malaysia and Vietnam, and is a public holiday in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.
These days, tomb sweeping is a relative rarity, when most of the dead are cremated rather than buried. In land-scarce Singapore, those who chose to bury will have the remains exhumed from the grave when it reaches 15 years. It’s like property market there is freehold, leasehold. Grave is on 15 years leasehold in that sense.
The essence of Qing Ming for most Chinese Singaporeans is the act of expressing love for the departed. I don’t know whether Chinese of other faith celebrate this festival. My sister, a Catholic, did accompany my mother to pay respect at my father’s niche on a weekday in a Buddhist way by burning joss-sticks, candles with the kneeling and bowing.
Buddhists and many people of Taoism faith believe by burning joss papers and paper replica of material goods and label name on the items, the intended recipient will receive on the other side, the afterlife.
I did not follow the trend of buying paper replica of high-end French designer goods with albeit-disguised brandname monograms, iPad because my father won’t use them. I still stick to the old fashion way, getting Hell Bank money notes, folded joss papers to the shape of gold ingot for him. Hopefully my father gets the “money” and buy things he likes over there. We hope he has gone to a better place or even reincarnated to become another person.
One thing must do is to buy my father’s favourite Pipa roasted duck 琵琶鸭, roasted pork 烧肉 and char siew 叉烧 (my father was a meat lover). I will make sure the food items I get is what my family members like to eat also because we will tuck into the feasts that had been offered. I understand Chinese in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan do it differently. Singaporeans develop own way of honouring the dead, just as we continue to feel our way through the pressures of today and enjoy the living.
Mandai Columbarium is managed by one government office. It is the largest of such kind in Singapore whereby we send off the dead relatives and say goodbye before they are cremated. This place is associated with sorrow and memory. Niches for the dead’s ashes regardless faith, race, community find a common place segregated in different sections and blocks. During Qing Ming Festival, the place becomes lively, it is more like a gathering with extended families and ancestors.
Expected the huge crowd, we had to wait in an orderly fashion for our turn at the limited table spaces to lay out the offerings, then quickly pack up to make way for others to do the same before burning the papers at the furnace. The people have been innovative in converting their young children foldable study table to become make shift ones to put the food. It’s amusing. Including the time at the traffic jam, we spent 2 hours to complete the ritual. It was heavy downpour for the next 3 hours. It’s commonly known to be raining season during to the festival. It intensifies sincerity of those who follow this ritual no matter rain or shine.