Worship offerings: Preserving tradition and keeping up with the times
When I was little, each time I saw my grandparents going to worship the ancestors, we had to prepare a lot of offerings. There were flowers, fruits, cakes and joss paper money printed with a lot of totems specifically for the purpose. Although we followed on the sidelines and worshipped with joss sticks, many times we often didn’t even know why we did so; we simply just followed.
Upon growing up, these traditional rituals gradually faded. When we “children” miss our departed relatives, we will just go “visit” them. However, we always tend to feel at a loss when it comes to the worship process; not knowing where to start. In ancestral worship, bearing joss sticks and fruits is no longer something only something grandparents would do, but more and more young people are also starting to bring offerings their ancestors would love to pay respect to them.
Although it is believed that a single joss stick is all that is needed to express one’s sincere intentions, however if you want to express your thoughts on the deceased or to show filial piety, you may want to bring some “accompaniments” to pay your respects to the ancestors. Therefore, here is a list of what to bring to pay respects – so that those of you who want to worship but do not know how will be able to pray for blessings and preserve the tradition – while keeping up with the changing times.
During ancestral worship, you can bring these offerings. The main offerings are meats, fruits, vegetable dishes, cakes and other offerings prepared in accordance to different festivals. Let’s take a look at them in sequence!
The three sacrificial animals are a kind of traditional offerings of meat. Usually, as long as it is a festival, meats from three animals are used as offerings for ancestral worship. The three most commonly used meats are pork, and whole chicken and duck. However, fish or dried cuttlefish can also be used instead.
It is often stated three sacrificial animals and four kinds of fruit, or three sacrificial animals and five kinds of fruit. It doesn’t matter whether there are four or five kinds of fruit, but the number of fruits should be based on an odd number as odd numbers are considered to be Yang numbers, while even numbers are considered to be Yin numbers. If the fruit is of the large kind, one is enough. It is important to note that you shouldn’t prepare fruits with multiple seeds, unless they are loved by the ancestor during their lifetime. This is due to a saying that multiple seeds represent impurity and disrespect to ancestors.
Secondly, six or twelve dishes are usually prepared – not limited to meat and vegetables – and the dishes can also be prepared according to the ancestor’s favourite taste in life, which will show more sincerity. If you do not have time to prepare so many dishes, you can also purchase a few dishes to pay respects which can convey one’s goodwill.
There are many different kinds of traditional cakes, and the ones prepared for each festival are also different. Generally speaking, when paying respects to ancestors, you can prepare Huat Kueh or “Prosperity Cakes”, which has the meaning of prospering in life. Some families make their own cakes, while busy families are encouraged to buy them at available stalls near their homes, which is just as good a way to show filial piety to their ancestors.
As times change, there are many unique offerings in addition to traditional ones. When worshipping ancestors, many families also prepare extra food that their departed loved ones enjoyed during their lifetime – such as nasi lemak, youtiao, bak kut teh, milk tea, pineapple buns and even fast food such as McDonald’s and KFC – which not only directly means their ancestors can enjoy a hearty meal but also symbolizes that their descendants will always have rich clothes to wear and have sufficient food to eat.
In fact, there is a traditional proverb for worship, that it is hoped that people should drink water and think of the source, and to pay careful attention to one’s parents’ funerary rites and to worship one’s ancestors. The children and descendants must remember that they owe it to the sacrifices of their ancestors that they get to enjoy the shade of the great trees and the fruits of their labour!
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