Friday, April 22, 2011

Family Gatherings on Traditional Holidays

Posted by Mari Rita Tobaru

Families gather directly front of the tomb for their Shimi “picnic”
Shimi (pronounced locally as “she-me“) is an official family gathering that takes place every year in April. The date of the event is based on the traditional Chinese calendar that is locally known as the “kyureki (old)” calendar. Clan tombs, during this time of the year, are full with people cleaning their tombs and preparing the area for lunch. Like the Obon gatherings, it is a time when families get together to offer food to their ancestors and pray. After the official rites take place, everybody enjoys their time exchanging and updating information about themselves while lunching together. 

This gathering is like a huge family picnic so many families choose a good weekend when the weather is warm and sunny. Since the gathering is relatively huge (one family can have as many as 15 to 20 family members or even more!), each family has its own task to do. Some may offer to participate in the cleaning (usually men) and some may help prepare the “picnic” grounds. Mothers or female elders of most families are mostly in charge of preparing the traditional “picnic” food.
Tradition is gradually changing, and some families also improvise by coordinating barbecues during this event. Whichever way this event is held, it is a special time with their ancestors.

As a foreigner, this event reminds me of the Christmas dinners I had with my families. Although I’m not blood-related at all, I get invited every year to a Shimi gathering. In my calendar, this event is labeled as a must-go event. Each year, the family makes sure that I know the date of the gathering and treats me like a real family member. In my heart, they are my family away from home.