The official date for the Chinese festival of Qingming or Chingming (Cantonese) is April 4 in China. The event is also celebrated in Korea and Vietnam. It’s the time for honouring the dead, for cleaning and decorating their graves, and even for sharing a meal with them.
Qingming is celebrated in Toronto too. You’ll see family groups this week gathering in Toronto’s cemeteries. For our previous blog post on this, see: http://bit.ly/zp8CX3 .
Chinese traditional funeral customs are still strong in Toronto. If you are attending a Chinese funeral service here, you should not wear red, especially if the deceased is under 55. Red is the colour of happiness, and the death of a young person is not a happy occasion. White is the traditional colour of mourning but most people wear black in Toronto.
You can expect Chinese mourners to visit an open casket and bow their heads three times in respect. On the way to the grave-site ceremony, the eldest son might lead the procession, carrying a picture of the deceased. At the end of the ceremony, you will be given an envelope with a piece of candy or a coin to buy a sweet. This is to offset the bitterness. If the deceased is elderly, the envelope might be red.
You might be invited to a family meal immediately afterwards. If the family follows strict traditions, there will be seven special dishes.
You’ll usually see lots of flowers, but there’ll be a box for donations to help the family defray expenses or support a favourite charity.
Recently, two officials of the Erin Mills Cemetery told me about some Chinese funeral customs they’ve seen. It depends on the wishes of the family. These have included the wearing of sack cloth on the heads of principals, a custom I’ve seen in China. The cemetery can arrange for musicians to play the wailing horns that sometimes accompany a funeral there, or a feng shui or geomancy expert to make sure the individual grave is sited correctly.
Paper models of cars, air planes, clothing, money, etc. might be burned the day before the service. These are to help the deceased in the after world. Many Chinese prefer to be buried with feet toward the south and head to the north, though feng shui experts might consider other factors. All of the new grave sites at Erin Mills cemetery face south.
Buddhists are usually cremated, while Christians are usually buried. But tradition is frequently ignored.
Please tell us what to expect at funerals of other cultures. We don’t want to make any mistakes if we attend.