According to Chinese traditions, the 7th lunar month is known as Ghost Month (qi yue), and the fifteenth day is called the Hungry Ghost Festival (also known as Zhong Yuan Jie in Chinese).
In 2018, the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore falls on 25 August.
During this festival (which has it’s roots both in Buddhism and Taoism), Chinese believe that the gates of Hell are opened, releasing hungry ghosts to walk the Earth and seek food. These hungry, discontented spirits need to be appeased by offering gifts of food, money and other supplies.
The Hungry Ghost Festival may be associated with all things spooky, but it is actually a time for the living to show filial piety and respect to our deceased ancestors.
Let’s check out what goes into preparing for the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore!
Buy joss sticks and offerings
The Chinese believe the deceased have needs similar to ours. Families usually burn joss paper during Hungry Ghost Festival to send departed ancestors everything they might need in the afterlife.
Joss paper offerings like currency, gold ingots, simple jewellery, clothing and basic incense are common.
It is also common practice to fold the sheets into the shape of the simple gold ingots used in ancient China. People may write the names of loved ones on the back of the offering, before saying a quiet prayer while the item burns and the smoke rises into the air.
One must, however, be mindful of all the pollution that is caused by burning these items, so do make use of the metal bins around residential areas and housing estates that have been designated for this purpose.
There are some superstitions associated with the burning of joss paper as well. Stepping of joss paper, or the burned ashes, and throwing away unused joss paper is considered to be disrespectful to the ghosts.
Attend Chinese opera and getai shows
Of course, one should also make sure that our guests from the other side are suitably entertained. 🙂
Large tents are generally set up in open fields to host dinners and auctions in heartland estates like Ang Mo Kio and Yishun. There are performances too, such as Chinese operas and ‘getai‘ (live stage performances), which feature tales of gods and goddesses, stand-up comedy, as well as song and dance numbers.
(Psst! Make sure you leave the front row empty for our invisible guests!)
Leave food offerings for the hungry ghosts
It is believed that the spirits of the netherworld are denied food as a result of their wrongdoings. When released, they search for food to satisfy their appetite and once satisfied they will not bring harm to people.
So, don’t be surprised to see small plates of food left along the roadside to appease our guests from the other world. You would do well to stick to small fruits, tea and sweets.
Steer clear of ghosts
There are so many taboos surrounding the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore, it would take up space for a whole new article! For the time being, remember not to step on the roadside food offerings or prayer items, and don’t be tempted to pick up coins you see lying on the ground.
And yeah, avoid wearing red this month?
Make or buy your floating lanterns
It’s traditional on the evening of the Hungry Ghost Festival or on the last night of Ghost Month to help the wandering spirits find their way back home by floating a paper lantern down a river.
You can either buy these lanterns or make one. It’s a great craft opportunity to bond with the kids as well.
On Hungry Ghost Festival Day
Have a family feast
What’s a festival without food?
The Hungry Ghost Festival includes a family dinner. Prepare a large meal to please the ancestors. Any meal that signifies wealth and extravagance, or their favourite dishes, will fit the bill. And remember to leave empty seats for them at the table!
Go outside for offerings
At night head outside with your offerings for the spirits.
It is traditional to arrange plates of food like uncooked white rice, peanuts, raw noodles, unpeeled fruit like oranges and uncut meat for the ghosts. Small cups of tea and rice wine are the beverages of choice.
Lighting the joss paper and incense completes the ritual. Some people choose to light their lanterns on this day.
- Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore falls on 2 September 2020.
- Remember to buy joss sticks and offerings.
- Attend Chinese opera or getai shows.
- Leave food offerings outside for hungry spirits.
- Buy or make your lanterns in advance.
- Steer clear of ghosts.
- On Hungry Ghost Festival day, enjoy a sumptuous feast and head outside at night with your offerings and lanterns.
Also READ: Hungry Ghost Festival superstitions that mummies should take note of now!