During Qing Ming Jie (清明节) or “Clear Bright Festival”, it is a traditional custom for the Chinese to visit cemeteries and columbaria to pay respects to their deceased family members as an expression of filial piety. The custom was introduced in Singapore during the 1800s when the Chinese migrants arrived and set up their respective burial grounds based on dialect groups. Many in the Chinese community continue to observe this custom today.
Qing Ming, translated as “clear” (qing, 清) and “bright” (ming, 明) weather, makes reference to spring time in China, where people would leave their homes to “sweep the graves” (sao mu, 扫墓) of their ancestors. Due to the absence of four seasons in Singapore, the local Chinese community observes Qing Ming based on the date alone.
It usually falls on the 4th or 5th of April of the Gregorian calendar and in the early part of the 3rd lunar month in the Lunar calendar. Visits to cemeteries and columbaria can take place either on the actual day of Qing Ming or ten days before or after the actual day.
Some of the practices associated with Qing Ming include the use of joss sticks and red candles for prayer, the making of offerings such as food and flowers, and the burning of spirit money and paper offerings to ancestors. Specific to food offerings, there will also usually be three types of meats (三生) comprising chicken, duck, pork, or fish, which will be prepared and offered.
Due to the scarcity of land in Singapore, cremation has become increasingly accepted and the practice of visiting cemeteries during Qing Ming has been rapidly replaced with visits to columbaria and temples that house ancestral tablets.
Moreover, in order to cater to the busy lifestyles of Singaporeans, paper offerings packages can now be purchased online and collected along the way to the cemetery and/or columbarium. Despite the emergence of web-based ancestor worship and online praying services in China, such services are still not observed in Singapore.