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If you happen to visit a cemetery this weekend, especially in East London (where the old China town used to be), you may encounter traffic of Chinese people visiting their deceased loved ones. That’s because today is Tomb Sweeping Day.

Also known as Qingming, Tomb Sweeping is the traditional Chinese festival celebrated by ethnic Chinese all over South East Asia, including Vietnam and Cambodia, and interestingly, Panama in Central America. Similar to Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, the ceased are remembered and offerings are brought to their graves.

The ritual often observes offerings made in a particular order. First, the offerings of food and drinks are laid out in front of the graves. Then wine and tea is poured, so that the ancestors can dine first.

Note that you're not supposed to put the offerings on top of the grave as graves are usually built at a higher height. However, here in the UK, the grave stones are made lower and there's little space for the offerings to be placed in front of it.

Afterwards, we burn incense, joss paper, and money. Joss paper will come with silver and/or gold colours, and as we burn it, the act represents us sending gold and silver up to our ancestors. Similarly, you can buy paper printed in the style of money, which we burn to send money to them too.

After sending them our offerings, we are able to dine with them, and we tuck into the food that we have laid out. Traditional tomb sweeping foods include sticky glutinous rice, meat, and fruit. After the ritual, we pack up the majority of the food and take it back home, leaving a small plate of fruit.

Qingming is celebrated on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox which usually falls between the 4 - 6th April. This year, it falls on the 5th April 2023.

Since my great grandparents were buried in Vietnam, we practise Tomb Sweeping whenever we visit, regardless of the date.

My ancestors graves in Thông Huề, Cao Bằng, Vietnam

Taken November 2022 when we last visited

In East London, where my grandparents are buried, the cemetery holds many Chinese graves and is usually extremely busy around these dates!


peace on Qingming


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