There’s a traffic jam near my house today. On most days, we don’t see many vehicles on the roads around here. It’s different today because of the QingMing Festival. These roads lead to the biggest cemetery in Singapore. I see families with bags of offerings waiting patiently as the cars slowly inch forward along the small road.
During QingMing, Chinese families visit graves of their ancestors to clear away weeds, touch up gravestone inscriptions and make offerings of wine and fruit. Giving them their favorite food not only shows respect for them but also brings the descendants good life and health.
When I was little, visiting my grandfather’s tomb on the hilltop during QingMing was quite an occasion. The plot offered a panoramic view of the vast cemetery and the kids had a field day exploring the area. The extended family would turn up with lots of food, incense and paper money. Everyone took turns to kneel before the headstone, holding 3 joss sticks. My grandma used to bring cooked cockles and after a little picnic, the cockle shells would be strewn around the tomb stone.
For us, tomb sweeping is a thing of the past. My grandpa's tomb was exhumed to make way for a new highway and his ashes are stored in a vase in the columbarium.
Qingming is not just a day of remembrance, it is also a day to celebrate the coming of spring, often by going out for a picnic. With the coming of spring, nature wakes up, everything is new, clean and fresh.
Qingming was frequently mentioned in Chinese literature. Among these, the most famous one is probably Du Mu's poem (simply titled "Qingming"):
清明时节雨纷纷 / qīng míng shí jié yǔ fēn fēn
路上行人欲断魂 / lù shàng xíng rén yù duàn hún
借问酒家何处有 / jiè wèn jiǔ jiā hé chù yǒu
牧童遥指杏花村 / mù tóng yáo zhǐ xìng huā cūn
A drizzling rain falls like tears on the Mourning Day;
The mourner's heart is going to break on his way.
Where can a wineshop be found to drown his sad hours?
A cowherd points to a cot 'mid apricot flowers.