The Qing Ming Festival, also known as the Tomb Sweeping Festival, is very much a family celebration and at the same time a family obligation. This year it falls on April 4th and last weekend thousands flocked to Chinese cemeteries for what is seen as a time to reflect and to honour and give thanks to their ancestors. It is an opportunity for families to reunite and enjoy a meal together.
Chinese families normally visit the graves of their recently deceased relatives on the nearest weekend to the actual date but sweeping the grave site is done within the ten days before or after the Qingming Festival. The Qingming Festival normally starts early in the morning by paying respect to distant ancestors from China at home altars then this is followed by visiting the graves of close relatives in the country. Traditionally, the family will burn spirit money and paper replicas of material goods such as cars, homes, phones and paper servants. In Chinese culture, it is believed that people will still need all of those things in the afterlife.
There are many paper products available that relatives burn including products such as iPads, smartphones and MP3 players but most families stick to the traditional items like houses, cars, clothes and massage chairs as they feel the new items would be too difficult for their ancestors to use. Hell money is still the favourite so they can buy whatever they need.
This is not unlike ancient Egyptian practice of burial for the dead where small replicas of household objects were placed with the dead (unless you were really rich and then you could get the real thing buried with you, including your personal servants!). In little shrines all around Asia, not only incense, but small packets of food are daily offered to the hungry spirits. Firecrackers are set off at regular intervals on almost every occasion, not in celebration, but to scare away the spirits. What may seem like quaint and colourful rituals at first glance, are actually desperate attempts to keep the spirit world – an often needy and malevolent force – out of the present world.