Context: My informant is a 26 year-old woman who is of Chinese descent. She grew up in Hong Kong and lived there until she moved to Pasadena at the age of 7. She described common practices for her family over holidays and how those were carried out at her buddhist grandfather’s funeral. She knows and loves these stories from personal experience.
“For every holiday, we never celebrated like “Christmas”, we would celebrate my grandma’s lunar birthday or a special dragon boat holiday like all these random holidays that I grew up with. A lot of Chinese people will have an altar to honor their ancestors consisting of a little red box and red candles with a little sign. Sometimes there are little figurines. Before everyone eats you put out a table in front of it with specific dishes (tea, wine, chicken, rice, fruits, vegetables) and incense. You pray to your ancestors at the altar. They sell these papers that have gold foil and you ball them up then burn them to help the things get into the afterlife. This would happen on every Chinese holiday. Then when my grandpa passed, he was Buddhist, so we had all these traditions of when you go up and honor the body you go up in generations and bow a certain number of times, eldest to youngest. There would also be all of these elaborate paper items like iPhones or houses. Then we burn them and it is thought to go to the afterlife. There’s all these different chants that we would recite at the end as well.”
I found this story really beautiful and moving. The symbol of burning these paper items in order to send them to those in the afterlife is one of the biggest things that stood out to me. Even the concept of having ancestors in the afterlife that you can easily access is a really intriguing concept that I had never thought of before. I also loved the idea of having this spread of different foods to offer as well. This shows how important food is in their culture and how much they honor and acknowledge those who have passed.