Yesterday was tomb sweeping day, a national holiday for everyone in China. It’s a day where people go to their relatives graves clean the graves, lay some flowers, burn incense and fake money and make offerings of food and gifts for their loved one’s spirits. Here in DaMaiDi, there are family cemeteries dotted around the hills and we were invited to join the neighbours to celebrate this day. For most people, going to visit a grave should be a sombre occasion but here the people are taking food, beer and baijiu (strong spirit), making fires and having an all day party. I was really happy to have been invited to this private celebration. Just like at Spring Festival, Chinese are always welcoming and like to share their traditions and cultures.
Luckily there has been a bit of rain in the past week or there would have been a real risk of burning the whole hillside. This time of year there are strict controls on outdoor fires but we’re far from any authorities and the local police are probably doing the same themselves. A couple of fires were made for cooking, two chickens had their throats slit and the women began to prepare what was to be quite a feast. The men got to work cleaning the graves, pruning trees and then relaxed, smoked cigarettes and drank baijiu, and the kids did what kids do squirting everyone with water pistols. By the time dinner was ready I was absolutely starving but it was well worth the wait. And just like all Chinese social gatherings, once the food had been eaten there was no hanging around. Everything was packed up, firecrackers were strung up in trees and to their ear splitting sound we all set off down the hill. I hadn’t really understood this festival before, but the way it was done here it made a lot more sense. It was like a big family picnic where even the ancestors could come, and celebrate the importance of a close and loving family.