Experiencing The Hungry Ghost Festival
Though the origins of the Hungry Ghost Festival remain obscure, the festival has been held for now over 100 years and has officially been listed as a part of China’s intangible cultural heritage. The Hungry Ghost Festival is also intrinsically linked to the Chinese practice of ancestor worship. The Hungry Ghost Festival is held on the 14th day of the seventh lunar month, i.e. in either August or September. Most people from Chinese origins celebrate this month.
For any visitor planning to visit China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore or Taiwan, this is an excellent opportunity to acquaint themselves with their living culture in action. During this month, it is believed the king of hell opens his gates of hell to allow ghosts to visit the living world. The ghosts are released to visit their relatives and freely roam on Earth.
Ghost Month festivities begin at midnight on July 1 of the lunar calendar, the day when apparently the gates of hell are opened. Many temples across the world hold ceremonies which include incense burning, food offerings, prayers and lantern lighting. Red lanterns bearing the names of the deceased are lit and remain lit for the duration of the festival. The hungry ghosts, also called good brethren, are believed to be ancestors of people who were not given a proper funeral. Numerous sacrifices and ceremonies are performed to appease the spirits.
Daily rituals during the Hungry Ghost Month include offering sacrifices to the ghosts which include rice, meat and fruit. Red candles, incense, giant colourful joss sticks shaped like dragons and paper money are burned daily until the end of the month when it is believed the ghosts return to hell. Miniature paper items such cars, houses, and clothes are also burned. The purpose behind burning these objects is to ensure that the deceased have all the material goods they need for the coming year. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will give them good luck in the future.
In the middle of the Hungry Ghost month is the Hungry Ghost Festival. It is believed the gates of hell are the most open on this night. On the 15th day of the month, which is the most auspicious, families offer cooked food to the ghosts. Paper lanterns are placed on the water and burned on this evening. Many believers refrain from going out after the dark for fear they may encounter a ghost.
Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead, characterise this month long festival. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts. The Hungry Ghost Month ends with a special folk festival called Grappling with Ghosts, which is held in Toucheng, Taiwan. In other parts of the world, the ghost return to the underworld and the gates of hell are closed on the last night.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is a fascinating way to explore the above mentioned countries!