Qing Ming, Ghost Month and other important dates that Chinoys also commemorate

By Stanley Ong See 05 June, 2017

A few years ago, my editor from another media outfit asked me a naive but weird question of how do Chinese-Filipinos celebrate Christmas? It was an innocent query to be sure, but for someone who grew up with Noche Buena, participated in “Kris Kringle”/exchange gift/secret Santa, and experienced annual Christmas rushes, I politely answered that there’s really no difference with how my family celebrates the most wonderful time of the year.

Like most people based in the Philippines, we observe regular and special non-working rest days by not going to school or having a day off from the office. However, in addition to the 10-plus national public holidays declared by Malacañang annually, Chinoys also celebrate special dates based on the ones being observed in Mainland China.

Unlike most Philippine breaks where important personalities (Rizal and Bonifacio Days) or religion (Holy Week, Christmas, and Eid al-Fitr) are the reasons behind the days of observance, Chinese holidays commemorate either nature (Spring, and mid-Autumn festivals) or a group of people (Women’s, Youth, Children’s, and Teacher’s Days).

Also, unlike in the Philippines where a holiday lasts or is celebrated for a day or two, Chinese important dates like the Lunar New Year and QingMing (清明節)/Tomb-sweeping (掃墳節) festival last for more or less an entire week. Though the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it is known in Mainland China and other countries with large Chinese populations, is the most important, it is not the holiday, festival, or occasion that Chinoys celebrate on a yearly basis.

Chinese (Lunar) New Year

Easily the most important and famous holiday for Chinoys and Chinese people all over the world as it is a time for families to reunite, come together around the dining table for a Spring Festival feast, and make wishes for a prosperous and blessed new year. The specific date is based on the lunar calendar; enabling Chinese New Year to be celebrated as early as late January to a late as the second week of February.

Filipino friends or officemates would instantly ask for boxes for Tikoy (粘糕), the glutinous rice-based round cake that symbolizes “raising oneself taller/higher in the coming year”. Common foods found on Chinoy tables also include fish for prosperity and good fortune, noodles for long life, and rice for unity.

Qing Ming (清明節)/Tomb-sweeping (掃墳節) festival

QingMing (pure and bright), Tomb-sweeping or “saw bo” in Hokkien is similar to the Roman Catholic’s All Souls’ day where family members go to cemeteries, temples, or other final resting places of their ancestors to clean and sweep their graves, give offerings, burn incense, and other practices. Personally, I haven’t been to our ancestral place in Xiamen or participated in the actual tomb-sweeping ritual, only through the stories and words from my dad.

Mid-Autumn Festival

As kids, we didn’t know the term Mid-Autumn Festival but know of two items associated with this holiday: playing Pua Tiong Chiu (the Chinese dice game) and eating mooncakes. The former is a six-die game where the objective to get all six dice to roll the face with four dots (狀元, Zhuàng Yuán/chuang yen) and win the top prize. 

The latter is memorable because of the legend of Chinese residents using the mooncake as a means of communication during the Imperial times. The Mid-Autumn or Mooncake festival is celebrated every 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar Calendar (October 4, 2017).

Pua Tiong Chiu's main objective to to get the Zhuàng Yuán or top prize.
Pua Tiong Chiu's main objective to to get the Zhuàng Yuán or top prize. (Graphics by Joeby Gabriel/ChinoyTV)

Ghost Month

The Ghost Month isn’t really an observed holiday, rather a 30-day observance of the Chinese with regards to the seventh month of the Lunar calendar. A period where my parents and older Chinoys would say that the dead, through their spirits or ghosts, are said to be out from the underworld and visiting the living. Aside from a more cautious approach (avoiding vacations, not going out unless you really have to, etc.), expect to see little to no new businesses open or major investments placed, even in the stock market, during the Ghost Month (August 22 - September 19, 2017)

Death anniversaries of ancestors

Aside from QingMing and All Souls’ Day, Chinoys also commemorate the death anniversaries of their loved ones by going back to their ancestral houses (or houses where they grew up), prepare a spread consisting of bowls of rice, fish, chicken (undressed or with the head and feet still attached), pork, and noodles for offering, lighting incense, and rolling and burning “gold” paper (金紙).

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    Avoid staying out late at night.

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    Avoid turning around when someone calls you or pats your shoulder.

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    *Nicole Cordoves is the reigning Miss Chinatown 2014

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