The Chinese folks like to prepare plenty of foods for our ancestral spirits, wandering spirits, gods and goddesses during festivals and no one can deny this. This can be seen in Asia where these folks congregated that plenty of food stuffs are left on roadsides to rot. While we continue to lament that how many people on the other side of the world died of starvation; this unforgivable custom persisted continuously.
Some people say that the food once tasted by spirits cannot be consumed by the still livings. Well, perhaps this is true as the old folks say that whoever consumed those foods after being offered to spirits will be dumb (变呆).
So, should we throw away those goodies instead?
No worries, all the food stuffs only need to be warmed up in the stove for a while and after that they can be enjoyed by anyone. That's all to it. That will avoid very bad karma of food wastage. That is provided that believe the theory of karma.
Another reason for not eating after the fact foods is that those foods would be tasteless after being ‘eaten’ by the spirits. This is perhaps true as the spirits only consume the smell of those foods and they cannot digest physical foods. Personally, I still hate to see good foods wasted however.
Now while we are still at this topic, let us go through some of the do’s and don’ts of food offerings in Chinese culture:
· Foods can be offered to spirits before any festivals but never more than 3 days later. The reason is that if food offerings are not prepared after 3 days, our ancestor will lament desperately (叹冷气) and leave. This lamentation is called 'the lament of poverty' (穷气) and consequently our household will be poor.
· Food should be offered to any deceased whose spirit tablet is still being worship in a household during his/her birthday.
· It is said that toothless toddlers can ‘see’ those spirits consuming those food offerings. So, to avoid those spirits scare the toddler, normally old folks will not allow toddlers to be around during food offering sessions.
· Children died below 12 years need not be offered with foods as they are still considered as minor. According to another saying is that if the parents offer foods to their deceased children, then these young spirits will be reborn into the same family and subsequently meet their same fates again. So, in order to ‘stop’ this cycle of born and reborn; it is best to stop offering and hence indirectly tell those young spirits that they are no longer wanted. This is another way to break the karma of the children.
· However if within a household hold, the spirits of a young child disturbs its siblings; then food offerings should be made to pacify this young spirit.
Then and again, the Chinese is a multi-ethnic group, so customs will differ amongst these ethnics. Even within the same group but with different geographical locations, the customs will differ too. For example, Taiwanese Chinese will tend to offer more food than the Chinese in SEA due to their economic status generally speaking.