When I was a kid, ancestor veneration meant treats…candies, cookies, pastries…choice treats.
On special occasions, as a dutiful Hakka Chinese woman, my mother honoured our ancestors with offerings of cooked meats—chicken, pork and fish, fruits and the above-mentioned treats. As far as I was concerned, the tradition was a good excuse for stuffing our faces. The hardest part was resisting the goodies during the days leading up to the appointed date. They looked too irresistible to stay in the deep recesses of my mother’s hiding places. We weren’t allowed to eat them until the ancestors had been properly appeased.
Now that was a contentious point for an outspoken uncle who often said that if the ancestors actually ate the food, this tradition would probably stop. My mother’s response to her brother was if such a thing were to happen, it would reinforce her belief. What is this belief anyway? In my youth I was pretty nebulous about ancestor veneration—just another incense / candle burning ceremony. It wasn’t until it became my turn to carry on the tradition that I started to dig a little deeper inside me to see how I actually felt about it.
Earlier this week, we engaged in some ceremonial veneration acts of our own for my husband’s deceased parents. The occasion—our first granddaughter’s birth a couple of months ago. I tried to explain to our non-Chinese daughter-in-law the significance of the ceremony from my point of view. I believe that the tradition is meant to remind us of our roots, and to help keep the memories of our loved ones alive. For me that’s enough reason to continue the ritual.