Pandemic posing challenges for annual tomb-sweeping day when Chinese families honour their dead

·2 min read
Ching Ming, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English, is on April 4 this year and is an annual holiday when people visit the graves of their relatives to clean headstones, pray and leave offerings. (Jason Lee/Reuters - image credit)
Ching Ming, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English, is on April 4 this year and is an annual holiday when people visit the graves of their relatives to clean headstones, pray and leave offerings. (Jason Lee/Reuters - image credit)

A Chinese holiday that brings groups together in graveyards to honour their dead and tidy up their tombstones is facing challenges this year due to the pandemic, and a B.C. funeral director wants people to know that's OK

Ching Ming, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English, occurs annually in early April and this year lands on Sunday. In pre-pandemic years, families would gather on this day at the graves of their relatives to clean the gravesites, pray to their ancestors and make ritual offerings .

Those offerings often include traditional foods such as date cake and rice balls and the burning of incense and joss paper, also known as ghost or spirit money.

"It's a celebration and remembrance of the ancestors," said Tony Chun Pun Chan, funeral director at Can Trust Funeral in Richmond.

That being said, Chun Pun Chan says he thinks those who the holiday honours would understand why, under present pandemic circumstances, they didn't draw a crowd this year.

"I do not believe the ancestor wants to put their living families at risk," he said. "They will understand that we are in a difficult time."

Offerings such as burning incense and joss paper, also known as ghost or spirit money, are a common sight on tombstones during Ching Ming.
Offerings such as burning incense and joss paper, also known as ghost or spirit money, are a common sight on tombstones during Ching Ming.(Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

In mid-March, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry amended a public health order after four months of restrictions on social gatherings. The amendment allows British Columbians to gather outside in groups of up to 10 people, as long as it's the same group.

Chun Pun Chan said the gatherings often are quite sizeable and this year suggests families separate into smaller groups to stay safe.

He also suggested visiting gravesites either a day or two before to reduce overall numbers in cemeteries on Sunday.

"When the pandemic is over, we can still go back to the gravesite and clean up," he said.

LISTEN | Tony Chun Pun Chan on the significance of Ching Ming and pandemic challenges: