What is Hungry Ghost Festival? How did it come about?
Just like how the Americans celebrate Halloween, the Chinese also commemorate a similar fest, the Hungry Ghost Festival (also known as Zhong Yuan Jie in Mandarin), when the souls of the dead are believed to roam the Earth
Traditionally, the festival is observed on the 15th day of the seventh month or the Ghost Month of the Lunar calendar, which is usually around the month of August.
The origin and the significance of the festival differ between the Taoists and Buddhists
Taoists believe in appeasing the wandering spirits released from the netherworld, while Buddhists’ emphasis is on filial piety
Legend has it that a Buddhist monk with magical powers saw his mother starving in hell and tried to feed her but because she was a miserly person and had not done a single good deed in her lifetime
she was unable to swallow any food
The only way to ease her suffering was for the monk to offer fruits and vegetables to other monks
And that’s how future generations continue to make such offerings turning the festival into a time for remembering ancestors
How do people “celebrate” the Hungry Ghost Festival?
Activities during the Ghost Month usually include the offering of food, burning of incense, joss sticks and paper money
Besides money, people have been known to burn paper replicas of anything they believe their deceased relatives might be craving for in the afterlife, be it a sports car, jewelry, luxury villas and even servants
A mainstay of the festival is the ‘getai’ performance, meant to entertain the wandering spirits. But getai today is different – all jazzed up with flashy LED panel lit stages
Performers no longer just sing traditional songs in dialect, but also techno versions of English and Mandarin pop ditties. It appears that even the tastes of the spiritual world are moving on with the times
A gentle reminder to not sit in the front row though, unless you want to rub shoulders with the “special guests”
Other festivities may include multi-course dinners, auctions as well as the act of releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, supposedly a guide for the spirits of loved ones, to show them the way back home.
What are some of the taboos, precautions and beliefs during the Hungry Festival?
It’s the hungry ghost festival and to avoid attracting the attention of wandering spirits, some people prefer to err on the side of caution and refrain from going out after dark to avoid bumping into evil spirits
Some will avoid swimming during the 7th month to prevent getting dragged away by “water ghosts” eager to find substitutes for their watery graves
Stepping on or kicking away offerings placed along the roadside is a definite no-no, and may incur the wrath of hungry spirits
Some say it’s best to avoid wearing red at this time as spirits are inexplicably drawn to that colour
While others refrain from consuming intoxicating drinks because they believe it’s easier for ghosts to possess those who are tipsy
Other beliefs include not cutting the hair on the head, or hanging clothes outside the house after dark
And just in case you’re thinking of getting married or moving house anytime soon, it’s best to do it after the Hungry Ghost Festival cuz it’s considered a taboo.