Hong Kong families burn macaroons to honour the dead

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong families trekked up to hillside cemeteries on Friday to burn offerings for their ancestors, with French macaroons proving this year's must-have delicacy for relatives to enjoy in the afterlife.

The ancient annual tradition sees thousands of people clamber up the city's hills, despite the hot and humid conditions, to burn incense and sweep relatives' graves in the run-up to the Ching Ming festival, which falls on Sunday.

Families traditionally burn likenesses of everything their deceased loved ones could ever want in the hereafter at graveside furnaces - from false teeth, razors and shirts to chauffeur-driven cars, yachts, mansions and wads of fake cash.

"This is where the parents of my grandfather are, and we come here to pay our respects once a year because during Ching Ming festival, they will come to receive things," Agnes Poon, who works for a property management firm, said at a cemetery in the city's Diamond Hill district.

Poon, 40, said she had burned paper models of shoes, clothes and gold and jewellery and food so that her ancestors could be more comfortable.

"We believe they will be able to use these items in another world," she said.

Others burned bags filled with paper gold while another family burned a large paper model of a sports car.

But in a city where shopping is king, modern consumer trends are increasingly shaping the sacrificial gifts.

"In the past, some people had only burned paper furniture or buildings, now, people are seeking 3D televisions and will look for iPads and iPhones," said Ng Shuk-fong, whose shop in the central Sai Ying Pun neighbourhood is crammed with paper offerings.

And the netherworld's taste for luxury is not limited to gadgets.

High-end French-style macaroons are the latest big thing in Hong Kong cake shops and now paper versions of the delicate confectionery are winging their way into the furnace too.

"There are customers...who are specially requesting this product (macaroons) because relatives who passed away had enjoyed eating them," said Ng, 46, whose busy store has been selling the paper likenesses for more than three decades.

It is believed that burning offerings for ancestors has been a tradition since the first Chinese emperor in 220 BC.

For those in modern-day Hong Kong, undertaking the ritual also gives them peace of mind.

"There are stories of people having dreams that their deceased relatives told them they were feeling cold," said Shirley Ho, an office clerk with bags full of paper shoes and clothes after shopping at Ng's shop.

"After they burned the things, it got better."

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