The Qingming of my childhood days in America

By Sandra Lee ( China Daily ) Updated: 2009-04-02 09:31:31

The first I ever heard of the Qingming Festival, which falls this Saturday, was when I was told my colleague was going home for the Tomb Sweeping Festival. I was in Hong Kong during that time and the hillside cemeteries looked like campfires were burning. I was a bit alarmed until a friend informed me that people were just burning up the sweepings from the gravesites and then burning paper offerings and joss.

The Qingming of my childhood days in America

Last year during Qingming, I was driving through the countryside on my way to a day of hiking. The hillsides were lively with people coming and going, carrying flowers and brooms. I was struck by the similarity to a much anticipated day in my childhood, Memorial Day. This American national holiday began after the Civil War and honors deceased soldiers on the last Monday in May.

Living in a small community, we children were eager for excitement. On Memorial Day we took flowers from our yards, usually lilacs, since little else was blooming yet in that northern clime. Lessons were suspended so that we could join the military veterans of our town. The children and most townfolk all walked solemnly with them to the small stone etched with the names of our town's servicemen who had died. Many families had someone memorialized there.

A trumpeter played the mournful song, Taps, a veteran laid a wreath on the stone and we all held our hands over our hearts. Then we all walked the mile or so to the town cemetery. Someone shot a rifle for the traditional 21-gun salute given to fallen soldiers. Candles were lit at each of their graves.

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