Hungry Ghost Festival (Ghost Month 2023)
The Hungry Ghost Festival is one of the most important traditional festivals in China. It is also named Zhongyuan Festival by Taoists, or Yulanpen Festival by Buddhists. The festival falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Hungry Ghost Festival 2023 is on August 30. The Ghost Month 2023 is from August 16 to September 14.
The Chinese believe that during this period, the spirits of the ancestors roam the living realm. To appease them, people prepare food offerings and burn joss papers to honor their ancestors.
Ghost Month 2023
The Ghost Month 2023 is from August 16 to September 14. It is the 7th lunar month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, usually falling in August.
Ghost Month is believed the scariest time of the year. During this period, the gates of hell open, allowing ghosts to roam freely and indulge themselves for a month. As such, people should be cautious to avoid any encounters with these spirits.
Ghost Month Start Day ( August 16, 2023): The gates of the underworld open, and all ghosts flee the afterlife. Ghosts who have a master will return to their homes, while the masterless spirits roam the mortal realm, meandering everywhere as they search for sustenance.
Ghost Month End Day (September 14, 2023): The gates of Hell close once more, causing the spirits to return to their spiritual realm.
Ghost Day (August 30, 2023): Known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, it's believed that ghosts are most active on this day. Chinese people burn incense and provide offerings to appease hungry ghosts, in order to prevent them from causing harm.
Chinese people take care of the ghosts by paying respect to their ancestors and entertaining wandering spirits. Celebrations are held on the start and end dates of Ghost Month, with festivities reaching their peak on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month - the Ghost Hungry Festival Day).
During Ghost Month, misfortunes such as poor health, property loss, and bad luck for families tend to increase. Consequently, people pay close attention and remain vigilant throughout the month.
It is wise to avoid making major decisions during this time. Initiating a new business or moving into a new house within the month is considered inauspicious.
Top 5 Hungry Ghost Festival Dos - How Do Chinese Celebrate the Festival?
1. Honoring ancestors for good blessings. People Put the family’s ancestral tablets and photographs on the home altar. They will tell what's been happening to their ancestors on their knees. They hope they can receive a blessing from their ancestors in this way.
2. Offering food to the ghosts: Prepare food offerings three times a day, including three bowls of rice, three sets of chopsticks, and three cups of wine for the offering. Meats, fruits, and sweets are also common. Food offerings are placed on the altar for the ancestors first, and then taken outside for homeless ghosts.
3. Burning incense, Joss papers, and red candles: Burn incense, Joss papers, red candles, and other items to please the ghosts. Paper effigies may include fancy cars, big houses, smartphones, and even gaming devices. These items are burned at home, outside the home, at bridges, or in fields. Chinese people believe ghosts will enjoy more prosperity with more paper effigies burned.
4. Holding live performances for wandering souls: The performances are free and always held at night for the entertainment of ghosts. The first and second rows of the seats are always left vacant, as they are specially reserved for the VIP unseen ghosts.
5. Floating water lanterns： People float water lanterns in rivers and lakes to dispel ill fortune and pray for blessings. The hungry ghosts will follow the lanterns back to their spiritual realm, carrying away bad luck at the same time.
12 Major Hungry Ghost Festival Don’ts
How can you avoid any potential encounters with ghosts during the festival? Here are 10 major don'ts to help you stay safe.
1. Don’t stay out too late at night. This is especially important for children, elders, and pregnant women. During the festival, ghosts are at their strongest at night due to the Yin (阴) energy. It is wise to return home before sunset.
2. Don't do any water activities. Water ghosts will look for victims to reincarnate on the day and may try to drown people in the water. Stay away from water activities during Ghost Month.
3. Don't touch food offerings: The offerings by the roadside or in fields are prepared for ghosts. Touching or stepping on the offerings could 'offend' the ghosts.
4. Don't pick up money on the street: The money is meant to bribe the guards of hell. Taking the money may offend them
5. Avoid wearing red or black clothing: These two colors are particularly enticing to ghosts and can attract unwanted attention.
6. Don't hang clothes outside at night: Wandering ghosts may try on the clothes, and then be inadvertently brought inside along with the clothes.
7. Avoid scheduling major life events like moving to a new house, weddings, business openings, and medical operations.
8. Don't kill butterflies, especially those that enter your home, as they're believed to be visiting spirits.
9. Don't open an umbrella indoors: Wandering ghosts seek shelter on this day, and opening an umbrella indoors could be seen as an invitation for them.
10. Don't stick your chopsticks vertically into your bowl, as gods or ghosts may mistake it for an offering. This is because, during regular rituals, chopsticks are often inserted into offerings.
11. Don't hang wind chimes at home. While many enjoy the pleasant sound of wind chimes, caution is necessary during the Ghost Festival (7th lunar month). As ghosts are known to wander and be drawn to the sound, this can lead to unwelcome spiritual encounters. It's recommended to remove any wind chimes from your home during this time.
12. Don't take photos during the festival, as cameras might accidentally capture unintended sightings.
Hungry Ghost Festival Legends
Chinese celebrated the festival since the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220). The spirits and ghosts return to roam the earth during ghost month. Those who had relatives would return home to visit the living. Their family members offer prayers, food, and drinks for them. For the homeless ghosts, no one feeds them properly. Thus they will wander around and bring potential harm and misfortunes to the living.
Taoists and Buddhists perform special ceremonies and traditions to honor the spirits of ancestors and to protect against ghosts’ attacks. People believe the dead ancestors can bless and protect them during the festival in this way.
Hungry Ghost Festival in Other Asian Counties
Singapore and Malaysia
The Ghost (Hungry Ghost) Festival 2023 in Singapore and Malaysia will take place on August 21st. The Ghost Month will last from August 12 to September 9, 2023.
Singaporeans and Malaysian please the ghosts with live performances. The activity will last the whole seventh month of the lunar calendar. The shows include Chinese operas, songs, dances, and so on. Show times are from 8:00 at night to 12.00 AM midnight. Don’t sit in the seats in the first row; they are left empty for the ghosts.
In Japan, the Ghost Festival is also known as Oben Festival. It is a traditional Buddhist custom to remember the ancestors. The festival lasts for three days, from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month.
Japanese observed the festival at different times in different regions depending on calendars. On the first day, people will hang lanterns in front of houses to guide the ghosts back home. On the last day, floating lanterns are put into rivers to guide the ghosts back to their world.
In Thailand, the ghost festival, known as the Por Tor (Hungry Ghost) Festival or Sart Chin, is celebrated in some parts of the country, particularly in Phuket. In 2023, the Por Tor Festival is expected to take place around August 21st.