Ching Ming Festival is one of the 24 segments in Chinese calendar. It normally falls on the 4th or 5th of April because it’s depended on the Cold Food Day (105 days after previous year’s winter solstice). In the old days, Ching Ming was celebrated 3 days after the Cold Food Day but Cold Food Day was shorted to one day and then abandoned. So nowadays, Ching Ming and Cold Food Day fall on the same day although no one celebrate Cold Food Day any more. Ching Ming is also known as “Remembrance of Ancestors Day” or ‘Grave Sweeping Day’.
On Ching Ming, the whole family will visit their ancestors or relatives’ graves. I remember when I was little, we had to catch a diesel train to north New Territories to do grave sweeping. As a kid, I always find it scary when the train go through the dark tunnel of the hill. But there is no more diesel trains running in HK now. If you want to see one, you can find it in the Railway museum in Tai Po Market.
We have to carry incense sticks, joss sticks and paper offerings like paper money and paper clothes and any other paper accessories, depends how serious your family is with this thing. All paper offerings will be burnt for they believe that the relatives can receive the goods and even ‘money’ this way. As a kid, I am always asked to carry a bunch of flower. Chrysanthemum is normally chosen so don’t give Chrysanthemum to Chinese people as gift coz it’s a funeral/grave sweeping use flowers, although some households may find it to display home on normal days.
Food like roasted suckling pig, steamed chicken, fruit and wine are offered during the ceremony. Then we will eat it up after the worshipping.
There were children in scruffy looking t-shirts offering you a red piece of paper and a stone to put on top of the grave stone. My family never explains to me what it’s for but I suppose red always implies luck so maybe it helps to bring good luck to the dead person? In return, you are supposed to give a few dollars to the children to buy this red paper.
There were also poor teenagers or adults carrying sickles and offer weeding services around the grave stones. As our family visits the graves twice a year (Ching Ming and Chung Yeung), we can manage with a pair of scissors!
Some superstitious people even carry willow branches with them or hang it on the front door. It’s believed that willows help to get rid of evil spirits, when Ching Ming is one of the days that ghosts and spirits wander about.
Things to watch out:
Many cemeteries are located at north New Territories so the Kowloon-Canton Railway is normally very busy on that day. MTR routes towards Tsuen Wan or towards Diamond Hill will be quite crowded too so delay or over crowdedness may occur.
Watch out for hill fire because there may be individual graves on hill. No one carries a bucket of water with them when they burn the paper offerings.