Most of the Chinese family in Penang are actively preserving their culture and tradition, like my mother. One of the most significant traditions is the Ancestors' Day. In Penang, it is known as "Cheng Beng", a Hokkien pronunciation, the predominantly Chinese dialect in Penang. In Mandarin, it is known as the Qingming Festival.
Cheng Beng is a time when the family will visit and pay tribute to their ancestors at the graveyard. It is a family obligation to their beloved and deceased one. It usually starts with a visit to the ancestors' graves in the early morning to pay tribute and thanks to the ancestors. This is usually followed by prayers and offerings at home.
My mother will spend the night before, preparing our ancestors' favourite food. She will continue her preparation in the early morning and set up a foldable table as a home altar near the front door. She will nicely arrange and place each of the dishes on the laminated table top (yes, she has this table for decades!). The number of rice bowls and little tea cups will represent each of our deceased love ones. At the front of the table are 2 red candles and in the middle is a cut out tin for joss sticks. There are 2 coins beside each side of the tin can. The ritual is to toss the coins into the air until they landed. Once to start the prayer to invite our ancestors home for the feast. An opposite side of the coins means they have arrived. The coins will be tossed a few times until the opposite is landed. Or wait for a few more minutes before trying again. The coins are tossed again towards the end to check that our ancestors have finished their meal before clearing the altar. The same principle applies. An opposite side of the coins mean they have finished and departed from our home.
The finale of this ritual is the stacking of spirit money and the paper replica of material goods; such as clothing, shoes and other more expensive items. Mum will also snip a piece of each of the food items to burn with the spirit money and paper replicas.
** Chinese traditions and festivities follow the Chinese calendar, which is a lunisolar calendar. This means, festival like this does not follow the exact date in the Gregorian calendar. My mother has a Chinese calendar in her home, which she used to observe the Chinese tradition that has been passed down for centuries.
The food after feasted by our ancestors' spirit will be served to the family to eat, as a blessing for a better health and a better future.
Insight Penang blogs about travel and food, sharing with anyone who enjoys traveling to other destinations, taking photographs, meeting people, experiencing new cultures and traditions, enjoying cooking and trying other cuisines.