Native Americans and most eastern cultures and societies regularly honor their ancestors with gifts and prayers . They believe that the dead continue to have a personal identity and maintain an interest in the fortunes of their living descendents . In China, where Confucian precepts are still subscribed to , and in Buddhist influenced societies such as Thailand , the dead are remembered with prayers and gifts at specific times of the year. In their ceremonies the Chinese burn paper models of servants , refrigerators , houses and cars for the comfort of their departed relatives in the after-life. ( A couple of years ago , a Chinese funeral home operator in NYC was indicted on charges of counterfeiting because he was selling cardboard versions of name-brand luxury goods to be burnt at funerals . I hope the judge threw out the case or , better still , that the case never got to court.) In India , there is a shraddha ceremony on the thirteenth day after a person passes and every year afterwards , there is a pooja or prayer ceremony for the soul of the departed. The purpose of such observances is to ease the soul’s journey into the after-life and not to seek any favors or protection.
Here in the West , we feel a little uncomfortable with the term “ancestor worship“. In our lexicon , the word “worship” is reserved for God but this is just a matter of semantics. A truer term would be ” ancestor veneration ” because it is really all about remembering and honoring our ancestors. Even here in the West we do it all the time . Catholics observe All Souls Day at the end of October and, in Mexico, November 2nd is the Day of the Dead ( Dia de los Muertos), when families visit the cemetery and pray for their departed relatives. There are similar ceremonies in other societies all over Europe though , in these rushed modern times , they are not as widely practiced as before.
Whether it is “ancestor worship” or “ancestor veneration” , I see nothing wrong with it . Our ancestors , particularly our parents , are the ones who created us and nurtured us . If we can pray to an unseen God , whom we have no real concept of , and ask for His favors and protection why can’t we do the same for our ancestors whom we have had first hand experience of ? And if , as in Greek mythology , such remembrances bring comfort and happiness to the departed souls , so much the better.
Several of my friends make it a point , when they say their morning prayers , to light a stick of incense before their parents photographs and to thank them for all they have done . One relative not only does that but , each morning , he places two sweets before their photograph as an offering . In the evening , after dinner , he polishes off the uneaten sweets . Talk about having your cake and eating it too !