On the first weekend of April, my family and I took the day to drive to my grandmother’s burial ground upstate. Sound tedious? It’s not. Trust me.
Grave-sweeping Day (Qingming Holiday) feels more like a festival than anything else. As far as my experience goes, it doesn’t mean literally sweeping the graves so much as it means a day of remembrance and celebration. Entire communities come together to pay respects to passed loved ones. In Asia, even extended family members from far away will brave the traffic jams and the mobs to return to their ancestral burial grounds for the festival, and suddenly you’ll find whole communities recreated and brought together for just one day.
Unfortunately for most families in the U.S, many first generation Chinese Americans won’t have the option of being buried with their ancestors. The grave where my grandmother (Ah-ma) is buried is part of a swath of land that our Chinese village association purchased a long time ago in a large cemetery upstate. If you’d driven with us to the location this past QingMingJie, you’d have seen a few people here and there, looking down at their loved ones tombstones and seemingly lost in thought. Then you would have rounded a hill and spotted our ‘village hill’, an enormous elevated lawn filled with parties of families, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and even fourth generation descendents, all bearing feasts, blankets, picnic tables and the smoke from burning trash cans rising from the hill.
What otherwise might sound like a boring, somber day turns into a well-needed break right at the crest of Spring. There were probably over a hundred people on the hill that day, the columns of grey smoke billowing from the small trash cans clustered around each family clan, the last vestiges of burned paper ‘gold’ ingots, paper clothing, cars, and other afterlife necessities.