Joss sticks lit upon altars, fires burning in metal containers, food laid out on the table. This is a normal sight during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Those of the Buddhist or Taoist faith will often observe the festival and it occurs during the months of July or August each year. This year, it runs from August 3rd to August 31st.
In the spirit of the Hungry Ghost Festival, here are 7 things you might not have known about it.
1. A lantern bearing a family’s last name will bring good fortune.
The lanterns are generally released into a body of water and in Keelung, Taiwan, the lanterns bear Chinese characters of a family’s last name. The characters are usually from the families sponsoring the lanterns and many believe that as the lantern floats further away from where it was released, it would bring more good fortune for the family in the following year.
2. If a person calls your name, don’t look back or respond.
It’s general common courtesy and sense to respond when somebody calls your name, but this is one of the taboos during the Hungry Ghost Festival. This superstitious belief is tied to how spirits are said to be roaming free during this time of the month, and are looking for some interaction with the living.
3. Save your favourite pair of stilettos for another month.
Heels are advised to be avoided during the festival as spirits are able to more easily possess an individual when their heels are lifted from the ground.
4. The ghosts are hungry for a reason.
The spirits are provided a variety of munchies during this time of the month, typically Chinese kuih-muihs, oranges, or roast chicken. This is because the spirits are said to be trapped between the spirit and human realm and are unable to eat, hence their hunger. Hungry ghosts are also believed to be those who died unhappy or from a violent demise.
5. Stay away from bodies of water.
Call it a scene from Final Destination or any other horror movie, but it is a typical phenomenon. When one goes swimming alone, they will wind up getting pulled under by an unseen person, or perhaps, especially during the Hungry Ghost Festival, a spirit. We are advised to stay away from bodies of water during this time to avoid any mishaps or unwanted drownings.
6. The festival is a big deal in the Taoist community.
In Malaysia, joss sticks, food and candles are commonly purchased in advance for the Hungry Ghost Festival but that is about the extent that most people go to in our country. In countries with a larger Taoist community however, the celebrations are grander and people will be seen praying in temples for good fortune and blessings.
7. It shares similarities with La Día de Los Muertos.
The Mexican sugar skull grew in popularity when YouTubers such as Michelle Phan and grav3yardgirl created makeup tutorials on the subject. The Mexican sugar skull is derived from the La Día de Los Muertos festivities which translates to Day of the Dead.
It is similar to the Hungry Ghost Festival in numerous ways, inclusive of how during the former, family members would pray for the deceased at cemeteries and items are offered to the dead.
Other Western cultures also speak of The Danse Macabre (The Dance of Death) where the dead from all walks of life come together to dance along to the grave. Unlike the Hungry Ghost Festival or La Día de Los Muertos, The Danse Macabre is not celebrated at any particular time but is often performed on stage or in theatres instead.
Feature Image Credits: http://www.chillisauce.co.uk/