I spent some time today with family for Qingming, a traditional chinese festival for commemorating the life of departed relatives.
Whilst there's a lot that could be written about Qingming itself, the main significance of such for me is the act of being together as a family.
A more connected place
Growing up, one of the things I've really valued was how family1 was always around and technology has helped.
When my grandmother passed away a few years back, we were able to be make the most of our time together. Through our family WhatsApp group2, everyone was instantly up-to-speed about what the situation was, what we were thinking, needed to do and where we needed to be.
We were able to get down to the hospital together, say our goodbyes together and be there for each other afterwards.
Similarly, for times like Qingming, the act of coordinating being together is seamless. We knew where to go, who's going and when and we were sure to do so.
When there are times to be together, we all try to be there.
What the day is like
There is a more traditional ceremony to the day but, for us, it's a fairly informal affair. We'd typically gather at my grandmother's grave and burn Joss Paper and incense. Whilst there are ceremonial aspects, these are mainly a backdrop to us all being together as one.
For us kids3, whilst it's all being set up, we'd be catching up and chatting. After we've given our offerings (and shared in some homemade Mochi and Youtiao), we'd all drive back and have food together.
Food is one of the things that binds us together within our family. Whenever we meet up, there would always be food. In big family affairs like these, there'd be a wide selection of food, usually cooked or brought over by each of the aunties.
Spring rolls and salad, duck and crispy pork, seafood and vegetables, rice and noodles and ending with soup. We'd be eating together over multiple tables3 and sharing stories about what's going on.
Funny stories, happy stories, crazy stories, work, holiday and relationship stories - we're all together sharing in our joys, frustrations and journeys.
And whilst we use technology to help us get together, it is out of sight once we're together as we're all there present and active, with nary a phone screen in sight.
Taking the opportunity to be together
The ease of being together is what makes it work. Regardless of how long it's been, conversations are easily picked up, continued, riffed upon and shared.
We all enjoy being together4 and whilst this is partly because we have shared history, I also think that this is because we do make time for each other.
It's why I find it warming that even a day that's about honouring the dead tends to be as much about the living and an opportunity to share and enjoy some time together as a family.
When all is said and done, our family memories and time are the things we cherish the most.
When I use the term "family", I mean the extended family. Aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins, grandparents - they're all connected together as one. Christmas time are always an extended family affair and it's rare to not have 30+ people together eating together.↩
We'd set this up fairly early on, as much for family occasions and emergencies but also to share family bantz, pics and stories. Typically, the kids are all on WhatsApp and the generation before are on WeChat.↩
We still call ourselves "kids", as much out of habit as well as amusement, despite all of us being adults by any possible definition. The previous generation are "adults".
This is particularly evident during dinner where there is a "kid's table" (aka all the cousins) and an adults table (everyone else). There are ample alcohol on both table, though our tastes vary to a degree.↩
One clear sign is that we choose to spend time together, whether that is during occasions like Qingming and Christmas, eating out or in at one of our homes or planning and going on holidays together. We're doing a cousin's trip to Japan later this year; family trips are not an uncommon event.↩