Feature Articles

Hungry Ghost Festival

By: Serene Low on 12 Aug 2013
The Hungry Ghost Festival can be said to be the Chinese equivalent of Halloween. On the fifteenth night of seventh month of the lunar calendar, the Chinese believe the gates of hell are opened to allow deceased spirits to roam among the living.

The more optimistic see this as an opportunity to reunite with long lost relatives and often prepare food offerings and burn hell money and goods to appease the ghosts and to make sure their loved ones are properly cared for. Food offerings are also left on the roads and outside houses for homeless spirits and to stop them from entering other houses. In more modern times, even mock electronic devices like iPads are burned as gifts for the spirits.

A large list of taboos come attached to the festival.

Rules include:

- Avoid swimming after dark because drowned spirits might drag you under.

- Stay indoors at night to deter unwelcome encounters on the road.

- Do not turn your head to look should you hear someone calling your name.  If you must, turn your whole body.

- Do not dress in bright colours.

- Do not start new businesses, get married or move into a new apartment during the festival.

Hungry Ghost Festival effigy

Despite its ill fortunes, the Hungry Ghost Festival is also an opportunity to experience the more unique aspects of the Chinese culture. During the festival, you can attend nightly getai performances, which are held on makeshift stages in neighbourhoods to entertain the spirits.

Getai, which literally means 'singing on stage' in Mandarin, consist of artistes dressed in elaborate costumes, singing popular Hokkien and Cantonese songs to entertain. Chinese opera shows called wayang are also performed on the stages. These lively performances are often accounts of Chinese folklore and consist of rich and colourful heritage ranging from the symbolism of the costumes they wear to the significance of various hand gestures.

Wayang performance

Be warned though, if you choose to attend one of these displays, don't sit in the front row of empty seats. They are reserved for the supernatural guests.

At the end of the festival, the living hold prayer sessions and burn more offerings. Effigies of Taai Si Wong, the 'policeman' of hell, are burned as well to send the spirits back.

In 2013, the Hungry Ghost Festival will fall between 7 August and 4 Sept.

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