Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Hungry Ghost Festival

Aug 29, 2009

You have probably heard of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Have you also heard about the less well-known Hungry Ghost Festival?

Just as the Americans has the Halloween, the Chinese have their version of a ghost festival too. This year, Year 2007, the festival of hungry ghost starts on the 13th of August to 10th September of the Western Calendar.

Celebrated mostly in South China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and especially in Singapore and Malaysia, the Hungry Ghost festival is a mixed Taoist/ folklore occasion that is taken very seriously by the Chinese. This festival falls on the 7th month of the Lunar Year and is believed by the Chinese that during this month, the gates of hell are opened to let out the hungry ghosts who then wander to seek food on Earth.

Filial Chinese families would celebrate this festival to remember their dead family members and pay tribute to them. At the same time, they also pray and pay tributes to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls will not intrude into their daily life and bring along misfortunes or bad luck.

How is the festival celebrated?

Another belief among the Chinese is that the dead return to visit their living relatives during the 7th month and thus the living family would prepare a sumptuous meal for the ‘hungry ghosts’. The Chinese feel that they have to satisfy the ghosts in order to get good fortune and luck in their lives.

During the 7th month celebrations, the Chinese offer prayers to the deceased relatives, burn joss sticks, paper money and offer food. In Singapore and Malaysia, it is a common sight to see entertaining ‘ wayang’ or Chinese Opera and concerts performed on outdoor stages in some neighborhoods. These events are always held at night and are loud affairs with singing, operas, dances all performed at super high volume. There is a belief that this loud entertainment would attract and please those wandering ghosts. The entire show may be filled with living audience but take note that the front row seats are always left empty for... you guess it, the unseen ghosts! Woe to the ignorant who take up the coveted front seats during the show!

Superstitious belief for the hungry ghost festival

An interesting superstition that the Chinese have about the festival is that it is bad to go swimming during the 7th month. They think that an evil ghost might cause you to drown in the swimming pool. In addition to
this, children are also advised to return home early and not to wander around alone at night. This belief is that the wandering ghosts may possess children. Thus, it is not surprising that swimming pools, beaches, shopping malls, cinemas, bowling alleys, parks and other public places will suffer a big dip in customers during this month. This is also a month considered not auspicious to get married, start a business, move house or even to travel. Plane, bus tickets and hotel rates tend to be at their lowest peak during this month!

Offerings to the Dead

The Chinese also do a lot of offerings to the deceased. These offerings are made by burning fake money notes, which are also known as ‘hell money’ and even paper television or radio sets. Some families also burn paper houses & cars to give to their dead relatives. The Chinese feel that these offerings reach the ghosts and help them live comfortably in their new world.

The Chinese regard the 15th day of the 7th Lunar month as an important date to give a feast to the ghosts. On this date, the family will cook a lot of dishes and offer them to the deceased. This is done to please the ghosts and also to gain good luck for the family. 15 days after the feast, the festival will be over, as the Chinese believe that the ghosts will return back to where they come from after a month of 'merry-making'.


No comments: