This festival is held during the 7th lunar month. This year it begins on 3rd August with commemorative activities running until 31st August.
Commemorating the Dead
The Hungry Ghost Festival and the Ghost Month (鬼月) has uncertain origins. Similar commemorations are found throughout Asia from India to Japan. The tradition apparently predates Buddhism and perhaps originates from Taoism.
According to one interpretation, the gates of hell are open on the first day of the seventh lunar month, and hungry ghosts are released to find food or to take revenge people who have behaved badly.
J Y See writes: Many of them have suffered in hell where they starved for months making it necessary to feed them with offerings to ward off any evil, hungry spirits.
Believers hold ceremonies and make offerings, chanting together to free and propitiate the ghosts.
Some Chinese believe the gates of heaven are also open during this month, and commemorate their heavenly ancestors at this time. Ancestors are often provided with money and consumer goods in symbolic gesture of support
Since the realm of ghosts and ancestor spirits is an intangible and non-material realm it is the essence of the offerings that must be conveyed. Ultimately all paper offerings are burned.
The sense that ancestor spirits are present has some similarities with the Balinese time of Galungan when Balinese ancestor spirits visit their corporal families. This is a time of great conviviality as ancestor spirits are believed to journey back to the corporal world assisted by the construction of penyor, bridges between the unseen world of spirit and the tangible world.
Behaviours to be Avoided During the Hungry Ghost Festival
Since the angry spirits released from hell are about in numbers, there are certain behaviors or activities that must be avoided during the month, so as not to attract or anger them. Believers would attempt to avoid the following:
- Strolling at night;
- Swimming. It is said that drowned evil ghosts might try to drown people in order to find victims for them to rebirth;
- Moving house, starting new businesses or marrying as the month is considered to be inauspicious;
- Hanging clothes outside at night;
- Picking up coins or money found on the street and if one does, never bring any home;
- Stepping on or kicking the offerings by the roadside. If someone were to step on any offerings by accident, he or she should apologize aloud to ameliorate the situation;
- Wearing red because ghosts are attracted to red;
- Singing and whistling as these may attract ghosts;
- Approaching walls as it is believed that ghosts like sticking to walls;
- Celebrating birthdays at night;
- Going out at 12 midnight as the ghost may approach you for food and other offerings for them;
- Opening umbrellas in the house as this might attract spirits;
- Taking selfies or videos as ghost might appear in them; and,
- Sleeping facing the mirror or something reflective as this guides the ghosts.
Believers are also advised to be cautious when sitting in empty chairs.
For more detailed information and videos on the commemoration visit AsiaOne’s treatment of the event.
Christianity and Commemoration of the Dead
In Western Christianity All Souls’ Day commemorates those departed in faith, often with a focus on one’s relatives but also faithful departed, in particular (but not exclusively) one’s relatives. In Western Christianity the commemoration is held on 2 November and is associated with All Saints Day on 1 November and its vigil Halloween. In recent years Halloween has been transformed into a secular commercial event.
In the Eastern Church practices vary somewhat in the Greek Orthodox Church the practice is to make commemorations for the departed on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after their repose. Since not all Orthodox Christians might have been commemorated in this way four Saturdays are set aside for a general commemoration of souls. This year, 2016 these commemorations fell on 5, 12 and 19 March, as well as the day before Pentecost June 18. All Saints day followed one week after Pentecost on June 26.
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Thank you for this article Maximos: most illuminating.