Ghost Month and the Hungry Ghost Festival: Key dates and events

·3-min read
Ethnic Chinese burns joss sticks infront of a 26 foot-high giant paper statue of the Chinese deity
There are a lot of customs to adhere to during the Hungry Ghost month. (PHOTO: AP/Vincent Thian)

The Ghost Month occurs in the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar, with the Hungry Ghost Festival happening in the middle of that period.

In the Chinese culture, the gates of hell and heaven are believed to be open during this month. The ghosts can then roam the living realm and the spirits of the deceased ancestors can return to visit the living.

Whether you're a believer or not, here are some key dates and events to note during this seventh lunar month (All dates are for 2022).

Key events

1. The night before the first day of the Ghost Month (28 July)

To mark the opening of the gates of hell and heaven, people will prepare food offerings and burn incense, candles, and joss paper, also known as paper money.

As both good and evil spirits are believed to start to enter the living realm, these offerings are to appease the roaming ghosts and pray for safety.

While the offerings differ from family to family, they generally include loose tea leaves, peanuts, candies, and fruits like oranges that symbolise good luck.

A few may prepare more traditional items like uncooked rice, raw noodles, and rice wine for the “hungry ghosts”.

To keep things simple, shops that sell incense have also come up with package deals that consist of joss paper and simple food offerings like loose tea leaves and candies.

2. Hungry Ghost Festival (12 August)

The Hungry Ghost Festival, a traditional Taoist and Buddhist festival, falls on the 15th day of the Ghost Month.

It marks the peak of the month, when it's believed all the spirits are now in the living realm.

Celebrations become more elaborate during this period, such as holding feasts and auctions at the HDB void decks or temples.

This is also the day when people would prepare a table of food for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. The food offerings include bowls of cooked rice and dishes that the ancestors enjoyed.

For a more sumptuous meal, some may add roast chicken and roast pork. Huat kueh, the Chinese steamed cake that symbolises prosperity, may also be offered.

While people generally burn incense and joss paper for their deceased ancestors on this day, some may also burn paper replicas.

These include watches, jewellery, luxury villas, sports cars, and clothes. The more modern-day paper items feature technology like laptops and mobile phones. The offerings are similar to those of the Qing Ming Festival.

3. Getai performances

One of the most significant activities during the Ghost Month is getai, which literally means "song stage".

It is a colourful live performance for not just people to enjoy, but also the spirits, who will "occupy" the first row of seats. Remember not to sit in the first row, even though it's "empty"!

 

Although the getai performances are usually meant for the Ghost Month, they also extend way past the month at times.

Previously, when pandemic restrictions due to COVID-19 were in place, getais even went online.

4. The last day of the Ghost Month (26 August)

The last day of the Ghost Month is when all the spirits are believed to return to where they came from.

To give them a proper send-off, people would prepare food offerings and burn incense and joss paper again.

Here's what you need to know about the Hungry Ghost Festival and the Ghost Month.

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