Tomb Sweeping Day April 4, 2012
I had a Wednesday off earlier on this month because of Tomb Sweeping Day. It’s a national holiday in Taiwan where you pay respects to your ancestors…and it’s a good excuse for a family reunion. ;) I was really lucky to get a chance to see what people traditionally do on this day by going with Albert and his family to their family tomb. Another cool thing about it was that it was Hakka style (that’s his ethnicity).
We rented a car to drive to a place in the middle of nowhere in Hsinchu county. It was on a mountaintop. There were many tombs near each other and you could hear lots of people doing ceremonies and things there. A family tomb basically looks like a small building built into a hill. Urns of cremated ancestors are inside. On the outside there’s a plaque with family names and that’s what you pay respects to.
There were lots of tables set up with food offerings- whole cooked chicken (heads included), fruit, cakes… and what was very shocking to me, a dead pig lying on a table. It’s supposed to be very traditional and it means something (Albert couldn’t tell me what)… but it made me think about being vegetarian again.
Everyone there was Hakka- and only one of them besides Albert was able to speak English to me. They mostly spoke Hakka among themselves but I got to talk to some in Mandarin. Tomb Sweeping is really just a family affair so everyone assumed I was married, since I came here with Albert. One of the elders wanted to make a speech and introduce me as a new member of the family. Oops! A little embarrassing- thankfully that got cleared up.
As for the ceremony, every family member had a few sticks of incense and first “bai-bai”ed to TudiGong (the Earth god). (“bai-bai” means you bow and pay respects that way) Then they put some of the incense in front of him. Then they “bai-bai”ed to the ancestor plaque and put the rest of the incense in front of that. The leader of the ceremony said something in Hakka and they set flowers in front of the tomb and spilled alcohol there as well.
After that was a little break. People created a bonfire and burned paper money so that their ancestors could have it in their next life. Then they set up firecrackers to go around the entire back of the tomb. They said some words and “bai-bai”ed to the ancestor plaque again. Then they lit the firecrackers and that was the end of it. People started cutting the pig into pieces so you could take some of it home. I’m glad I didn’t get any to take home.
It was really cool to see this ceremony! It was not nearly as exciting as the Mazu festival but it was still really interesting to me! Some other families played Taiwanese opera music to entertain the ancestors and I got stared at a lot. Someone asked me if I was European again. ;)