Cemetery comes alive as Chinese honor their dead

Yellow banners, inscribed with the names of hundreds of Chinese ancestors, waved in a breeze of smoke and incense Sunday at Cypress Lawn cemetery as part of the annual Chung Yeung festival.

Chung Yeung, also known as the Double Ninth Festival, falls each year on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese calendar — or roughly Oct. 30.

Like Ching Ming in May, it is a time when Chinese families gather to sweep the graves of their dead loved ones, bring fresh flowers to the cemetery, burn paper money and other offerings and offer lavish feasts to the dead as well as the living.

Under a bright tent, monks from San Francisco’s Shuen Yeung Temple sang traditional Buddhist songs while families lit incense to honor their loved ones.

“The monks give blessings for the deceased,” South San Francisco resident and Cypress Lawn employee Anita Sit said. “The whole festival is about paying respect to the ancestors.”

Three generations gathered around the Phan family plot Sunday, where a bounty of their dead loved ones’ favorite foods — from piles of fresh fruit to roasted chickens and dumplings — were spread in front of the grave, including the all-important whole roast pig with its head and tail still attached.

“To me, it means that there is a beginning and an end,” San Francisco resident Laela Phan said. Chinese communities frequently devote a whole week to Chung Yeung so that certain families can choose the most auspicious day to visit their ancestors, according to Laela’s cousin, Sing.

Nearby, families lit strings of firecrackers whose loud bangs were meant to convey a sense of happiness, while others burned paper money, paper clothes and silver and gold pieces of paper to ensure that their ancestors will have all the wealth and protection they will need, Phan said.

“You take care of your loved ones in the afterlife so that your loved ones will, one day, take care of you,” said Martin Jacobs, spokesman for Cypress Lawn, which has hosted Chung Yeung and Ching Ming traditions since 1986.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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