D. Liu-Week 3- Description of a Ritual

We are a Chinese Cantonese speaking family, and every year on memorial day, my family and I go to visit my grandmother’s grave at Mt. Hope memorial gardens. This year was no different. On May 30th, 2016 during the early afternoon, my parents, older brother, and I drove to the Cemetery to meet up with our family members. Usually it is my aunt from my dad’s side, and uncle, and my two cousins along with other family friends. The memorial gardens were well maintained, and the grass were well cut for the holiday. The weather was fair, and planes could be seen flying over every now and then. About fifty meters on the other side of the grass, a man playing “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes could be heard all around and some families can be seen visiting graves. When we stepped out of the car and onto the dirt gravel path, our family then went to place a large sheet in front of our grandmother’s gravestone. We then placed a variety of different foods each family brought on the sheet. We then get ready to show our respect and each take turns to pray and bow our heads three times in front of our grandmother with usually about three incense sticks in our hands. We then place the incense sticks in the grass on the grave, afterwards, we set up a large metal bin to burn spirit money for the dead and occasionally stir it with a stick. When we finished, we pick up everything and move over to a tree with good shade nearby and set up a picnic where we eat and spend time with friends and family. Our families, friends, and the children, enjoy the conversations and food, usually composed of Chinese bakery goods, Chinese roast pork, duck, and other Chinese foods that everyone brings along. Cantonese families usually do not eat spicy foods, like other Chinese families, so it was not a part of our meal. The conversations taken place are usually about future plans and activities or recent past events, some gossip, and other normal everyday things. Afterwards, we pack it up and drive over to our aunt’s house and have a barbecue later at night along with other Chinese foods. I usually play ping pong with many different family members, throw a Frisbee around, or play a very popular Chinese card game sometimes called “Big Two” in English, and the other adults are usually playing mahjong in the basement until dinner is ready. After we eat and rest for a few minutes, we left around 11pm at night and say our goodbyes until next time.

The ritual my family performed is an intensification type to stay connected and strengthen familial bonds and an Instrumental rite, in that burning spirit money for the dead, and praying with incense to the dead are somewhat religious or superstitious. Although, for many people, memorial day is a day to remember those loved ones who died fighting for their country, for us it was a day where we could all get together. The traditional bagpipes are typical at U.S. memorials, and show respect to the dead. Of course not every Chinese family will get together on memorial day like mine, but paying respects to our dead this way is not uncommon. We placed food on a large cloth sheet as an offering for the dead, and pray with incense sticks because it is tradition. Often times, we pray, either for health, good education, money, and good fortune while we bow with incense sticks in hand. The spirit money we burn is believed to be currency for the dead, so we burn them and stir it so it is evenly dispersed. We also eat some of the food from the offering and it’s common that families get together afterwards to eat and spend the day together. The Roast pork and ducks are usually bought on the same day or before from local Chinese shopping districts so it is fresh and delicious. The activities, such as ping pong, Chinese card games such as Big Two, and mahjong is a part of the Chinese culture, and a fun leisurely activity. It is a mostly happy and enjoyable time of the year for us, mainly because of the delicious Cantonese Chinese food and fun time we spend together.

2 thoughts on “D. Liu-Week 3- Description of a Ritual

  1. Good Afternoon,
    Thank you for sharing your own family and cultural ritual! I think it is important to keep in mind that a ritual does not always have to be an “elaborate celebration” as mentioned in the “Rituals: Sacred and Secular” lecture. Why your ritual that you have spoken about is not a regular daily basis thing it fits between the daily activities and more intense celebrations. The description of your ritual was very much so, nonetheless, within the definition of a ritual! There was communication with the dead through offering and prayer (communication). It was a familiar practice to all of the participants because each person did so without direction. Reflecting on the above-mentioned lecture, you also covered the three parts of a ritual. You covered “separation” because visiting the gravesite and interacting with the deceased is not an everyday activity. The liminal stage is marked by a transformation I suppose one may experience after a prayer. Finally, you reintegrated when you had a picnic, engaged in some conversation, and later attended the barbecue!
    Have a great week,

  2. The ritual that you and your family performed on Memorial Day definitely gave us quite a bit of insight into the lives of a Cantonese speaking Chinese family. Even though it’s not something that you guys do often, it still is something that is very important to you and your family. With that being said, I must also point out the part in where your family was playing a game known in English sometimes as “Big Two”. The fact that you had to translate it meant that you were practicing a sort of symbolism that was mention in chapter 3 of “In Making Sense of Language”, where the author shows how if you have a concept such as the card game, then the other person or in this case the reader could connect by making the sound or image. Besides that though, I find it very interesting how your family holds a memorial for your grandmother like this every year. Thank you for providing us the insight.

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