After successfully parking the car, the four of us walked about five minutes to the cemetery to visit Tian’s grandparents’ graves and pay our respects.
Unlike a US cemetery on Memorial Day, the atmosphere at Yan Deng Shan was very loud. There was an incredible amount of noise, smoke, and foot traffic. As we walked between rows of tombstones, weaving around families of all sizes at different points of their family rituals, we had to plug our ears and guard our eyes to avoid the stray flying firecracker debris.
Once at her grandparents’ graves, Tian swept the tomb clear. Then we each lit incense sticks and bowed to show our respects. Tian’s dad created a small fire and burned stacks of paper money called joss notes, which in ancient Chinese mythology symbolizes giving your ancestors the resources they need in the afterlife. Afterwards, we lit a long line of big blackcat-style fireworks meant to scare away evil spirits. I appreciated that Tian’s family generously welcomed me participating in these traditions.
Qing Ming Jie is an ancient Chinese holiday that goes back thousands of years. While there are common elements to the ritual, it is celebrated somewhat differently by every family, especially by region and ethnic group. In 1949, the Communist Party actually ended the formal holiday but it reinstated it as an official holiday in 2008.