|Spring-Time Tombs Sweeping|
|Written by Viên Minh|
|Sunday, 21 February 2010 12:48|
by Chi Lan (GNO)
Thánh Thủy translated to English Read in Vietnamese
People doing their Tombs cleaning on Tao Mo day – a beautiful custom of the Vietnamese people during Tet.
In the few days when the old year about to finish, with the warmer weather to welcome the temperature change, and the early spring breeze caressing and refreshing our existence, the lines of the famous poetic story of old suddenly came to mind. Nostalgia abound! Remember those days in the country, remember the timeless family gathering during Tet, remember the preparation taken for our reverential trip to the back land for the traditional custom of Tomb Sweeping Day
(or Tao Mo in Vietnamese - explanation by the translator: Tao Mo is customarily done before or during Tet, where the family members spend time weeding and cleaning out the tombs area, putting fresh flowers and incenses at the shrine, repainting the tombstones, visiting with the deaths, etc... often people do the same thing for neighboring tombs, or tombs of unknown people without anyone taking care of – an act of respect for ALL the dead and deceased people not just those one knows and loves).
We came from a small village. My mother got married then followed my father into the city. All three of us were born and lived in the city most of our lives. Only my maternal uncle and his family still remained in the old village, farmed and raised animals in the same land of the ancestors, inherited the land as well as all the tombs and altars and shrines of long gone family members, plus the work to take care of and maintain them throughout the years.
On the parcel of land reserved specifically for burying the dead, my grandparents, my mother, my aunt, my uncles and their wives have laid down peacefully for many years. The cousins put such an effort maintaining and improving this burial site for the family. Every year for Thanh Minh (another occasion for observing Tao Mo in middle of the 3rd lunar month – roughly early April), whether the family returned to the mother-land or not, these cousins took it upon themselves to prepare the tombs and perform all necessary rites and rituals for the whole clan. But during Tet, wherever we were, we all made the effort to return to the village for a day of Tao Mo, visit with the cousins, uncles and aunts, and have a family feast – a tradition that went back for generations. My eldest cousin often said: “Thanh Minh is more of a Chinese tradition for Tao Mo, but as far as Tet, we have to do it the Vietnamese way. Of course we want to have our ancestors celebrate Tet (‘an Tet’) with us!” So then, the red bows went up to the few trees in the front of the family ancestral home to give it “an air of Tet” and preparations were made for the whole clan to participate in the spring-cleaning day for all ancestral tombs and burial altars.
On the first day of Tet, after the proper rituals at home, everyone carried their assigned offerings to the parcel of land designated for family burial for the necessary rites. The dozen or so family tombs were already swept and repainted in limestone paste. The path leading out to the site was also cleaned clear of weed and tall grass. Not much left to be done except here and there a few blades of grass along each tomb stood out like sore thumbs, needless to say someone bent down to plug them sweetly up... We proceeded to spread out the food offerings, and took turn burning incenses and respectfully bowing to the deceased loved ones, murmuring words of gratitude and love.
The food offerings simply were those that the deceased people loved to eat when they were still alive. So we offered patechaud (a meaty bun) and milk cookies for my mother, sesame brittles from Vung Thom for grandmother, and earth and moon cakes, etc... After the incense burning and offering, we sat around enjoying the scented aroma and the fragrant smoke of incenses and retold stories, or just visited with each other... Things that the busy life all year through wouldn’t allow time for us to meet now that we scattered all over, each in his/her own direction of life. We reminisced the olden days when we were young and lived close by in this mother land; we were much closer then, young, carefree and happy. From the deepest of our heart, the old village - this ancestral land - still bound us together, just like the bamboo strings that were used to tie the Banh Chung and Banh Tet (traditional glutinous rice and mung bean cakes) each Tet occasion when we gathered around to watch over the long cooking process, way into the wee hours of the New Year.
My young cousin always included the faked golden money for the burning rites, as well as an outfit made out of paper for each of the deceased family members. He even went to the extent of writing the names, birthdates, and year of their death on each piece of clothing so as not to mix them up. (Note added by the Translator: These items were reverently burned – with the belief that on the “other side” the loved ones would have the money to use, and new clothes to wear for Tet.)
And so there we were, each New Year day, together on the first day of Tet, to reminisce, to relay stories of old, to re-visit time past, to remember, to cherish... and the feeling of happiness and togetherness was far more than anyone could possibly dreamed of. Wasn’t it the nicest way to welcome the new year?
Thanh Thuy (The Buddhist Translation Group)
|Last Updated on Saturday, 22 January 2011 02:27|