Halloween is a celebration which is celebrated in some western countries like USA, England, Ireland, and others. Halloween is a day when people remember the dead (martyrs, saints, and all the faithful departed). As we know, in a Halloween night, people are wearing costumes, partying, the kids are trick-or-treating, and carving pumpkins into Jack-o-lanterns.
Along with the times, this kind of western cultural event came to China through the expats and foreign teachers. But do you know that the Chinese have a festival which is similar to western’s Halloween Day? It’s called The Hungry Ghost Festival, also known as Zhongyuan Jie (中元节), Gui Jie (鬼节) or Yulan Festival.
What is The Hungry Ghost Festival?
The Hungry Ghost Festival or also known as Zhongyuan Jie (中元节), Gui Jie (鬼节) or Yulan Festival which is a traditional Chinese folk festival that is celebrated in certain Asian countries. So, what are the differences between Western Halloween and The Hungry Ghost Festival?
Halloween originated from Celts’ traditional holiday in Great Britain who believed that October 31st was “the day of the dead” or “the ghost day”, it’s when the ghosts cross over the boundary between the living and the dead.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is a part of the religion in Chinese society. People perform special ceremonies such as burning incense, putting family’s ancestral tablets on the table, and preparing food three times on that day to avoid the wrath of the ghosts.
When is The Hungry Ghost Festival Celebrated?
In Chinese culture, the 15th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day. The 7th month is called Ghost Month. It’s the time when ghosts, spirits, and deceased ancestors come out from the lower realm.
Here are the dates for The Hungry Ghost Festival from 2018 to 2021
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How Do People Celebrate The Hungry Ghost Festival?
This event is held during the 7th month of the lunar calendar or also known as The Ghost Month. During this month, the gates of the lower realm are opened up and the ghosts are free to rove around the living world (Earth) seeking entertainment and food.
People believed that these ghosts are those who were never given a proper ritual send-off or the late ancestors of those who forgot to pay tribute to them. The family members offer their prayers, drink, food, and burn the hell money to deceased relatives. People also burn paper houses, cars, servants, and paper televisions to please the dead.
As a symbolical guide to the lost souls to the afterlife, people lit lotus-shaped lanterns and set them afloat to the rivers and out onto the seas. Nowadays, in some East Asian countries, people give the ghosts live performances where everyone is invited to attend. They let the first row seats empty because that’s where the ghosts sit.
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Do People Outside the Mainland China Celebrate The Hungry Ghost Festival?
Yes, they do. In South-East Asian countries like Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, they do a concert called Getai. They give the ghosts singing, dancing, opera, and or a puppet show as entertainments. During Getai, the front row seats for the audience must be empty for the ghosts to sit.
In Vietnam, this festival is known as Tết Trung Nguyên. People view this moment as a time for the condemned souls who are released from hell. People offer the “homeless” (spirits); they also release birds and fish to earn merits for the living.
The Cambodian also pay respects to their deceased relatives up to seven generations. The festival is called Pchum Ben. People believe that during the period, the gates of hell are open.
Laos has a festival in September each year and goes for two weeks. During this period, they believe that the hungry spirits are freed from hell and hang around in the living world; many people make food offerings for those spirits.
Thailand has a 15-day long annual festival called Sat Thai and is celebrated between September and October. Like other related festivals, people believed that during the time, the deceased come back to Earth for fifteen days.
In Taiwan, during Ghost Month, people avoid to do something risky like surgery, buying cars, swimming, moving to another house, marrying, whistling, or taking pictures after dark. They also burn the incense and hell money, offering the spirits food, and releasing water lanterns.