It has been a while since I’ve been to my ancestral graves, but the feeling there is nothing short of mystical. Mounds and mounds of gravesites built almost on top of each other. Ancient crumbling stone. Weeds and nature creeping forward to reclaim the land.
Cleaning the gravesite is an arduous task. When my brother and brother-in-law went to do it, they were gone half the day and came back sweaty and cranky. “We couldn’t even find the headstone for awhile. We had to put the weeds in a huge pile and burn it!” they told me. I wondered why we went to all that effort to honor our ancestors in this way. Couldn’t we just stay at home and burn incense to them?
My mother told me one time that it is a matter of pride. She said that clean and swept gravesites meant the family of the deceased is doing well and still honors their ancestor. People will look at an unswept grave and say, “Look! Their descendants are not responsible and do not care.” So there is some judgement that goes on–or societal pressure. It is such a big deal that my family returns every seven years (we are on a rotation schedule with other family members) to do this ritual even though we all live in America now and are not religious in an ancestor-worship way.
Whether you are able to go to your ancestor’s graves or do a small ritual in their honor, I think the important thing is to just remember them. Tell stories about them, let them live in your minds and hearts.
Here is a video that gives some ideas of ways you can involve your kids in a small tomb sweeping day ritual. You can tell my kids are totally casual and maybe a little sacrilegious, but you have to start somewhere! From my home to yours, have a meaningful 清明節！