The Gates of Hell Are Open. And the Ghosts Are Hungry
The Chinese Hungry Ghost Month begins today, Aug. 16. It’s the first day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
From today until Sept. 14, Chinese people of the Taoist or Buddhist faiths believe the gates of hell are open and hungry ghosts wander the earth in search of food and entertainment.
During Ghost Month, Chinese communities all over the world burn hell money and ghost goods—such as paper-mache cars, cell phones, houses and jewelry—to ensure their ancestors are well taken care of in the afterlife.
The Hungry Ghost Festival falls on the 15th day of the month (Aug. 30). Some people will serve large feasts on offering tables for the dead on this day. Others may light lanterns in the shape of lotus flowers and release them in rivers. As they float away, the lanterns help guide the dead back to where they belong.
Ghost Month is a major festival for people of Chinese descent. When I lived in Singapore, the air would be thick with smoke from the burning of incense and joss paper products. Offerings of food and fruit would pop up at makeshift altars all over the island.
It's also a time for live (and loud) musical performances so as to placate the spirits. Traditionally, these were Chinese operas. Nowadays, they’re more likely to be singing, dancing or comedy shows known as “getai” that are performed on temporary stages. One warning: the first row of seats is reserved for the dead, so try not to sit there.
This is an unlucky period, so it’s best not to undertake any major business dealings. In addition, don’t get married or schedule surgery.
And whatever you do, don’t try to summon any spirits (put that ouija board away). Ghosts are particularly active and prevalent right now.
- Don’t swim at night or drowning victims might decide they need a friend and drag you under.
- Don’t answer if you hear someone calling your name in the middle of the night.
- Don’t stick your chopsticks in your bowl of rice or spirits might mistake the food for one of their offerings.
- Don’t leave your front door open at night in case something wanders in that you don’t want.
- Don’t kill any unusual insects that enter your house. It may be your ancestor paying a visit.