Hungry Ghost Festival 101: What You Die-Die Must Know
STORY: Pearlyn Tham
19 August 2020
During Halloween, people dress up as superheroes, cartoon characters, vampires (or vamps), monsters, ghosts and their mothers-in-law.
But if you see any of these coming at you and asking for “trick or treat” during our Hungry Ghost Festival, run.
Yes, we Chinese pay tribute to the deceased in an entirely different way. The Hungry Ghost Festival is observed mostly by Buddhists and Taoists during the seventh month on the lunar calendar. During this time, they believe that the gates of Hell open and spirits roam the earth.
To keep them happy and harmless, those who observe this occasion burn paper offerings and money, leave food and drinks out in the open, and provide entertainment in the form of getai performances.
Here’s what you die-die must know about this festival.
It’s known by many names
Yeah, just like Sean Combs / Puff Daddy / P.Diddy / Puffy / Diddy / WeCan’tReallyKeepTrackOfHisNameChangesLiao, the Hungry Ghost Festival is also known as Zhong Yuan Jie, Gui Jie, a very poetic Feast for the Wandering Souls and Seventh Month (which we think are Singaporeans’ fave name because short and sweet mah).
Don’t chiong or jio us out after dark
The very pantang among us self-enforce curfews to avoid meeting evil spirits at night. Also, another good excuse for introverts to decline real-life invites since we can’t use the CB excuse now.
Don’t go swimming
And it’s not because you are afraid of families of otters, lethal jellyfishes or fellow swimmers who pee while breast-stroking away. During the Hungry Ghost Festival, it is believed that you can get dragged away by water ghosts. And we are thinking, they look nothing like the Little Mermaid.
Don’t anyhow step on or kick offerings along the road
Those are placed there for wandering spirits. Just recall how hangry you felt when your yaogui (the living, breathing ones) colleagues nicked the prawn crackers from your desk that you were saving for OT nights… and you will understand how true yaogui (the non-living, non-breathing ones) will feel when you’ve smashed their annual eat-all-you-can fest.
Better not wear red
It is said that ghosts are attracted to this colour. Plus, National Day is over liao what, and red brings out your oily forehead more.
Stay away from walls
Spirits apparently like to stick to walls. So, if you are leaning against one, they may latch onto you too, like your pesky new boss who insists on lunching with you.
Don’t drink or do drugs
Some believe that the more intoxicated you are, the easier it is for ghosts to possess you… and make you drunk-dial your ex-BB.
Don’t move house or renovate
Just when you thought that you could finally get your contractor to zhng your BTO post-CB, it’s Seventh Month. Sian, this is just not your year.
Don’t get married, buy new car, go on a diet
Whatever marks an auspicious start for you should not be done during this inauspicious time. Okay, we lied about the diet one.
Up to 50 people allowed at prayer services
That 50-pax cap for wedding events and ceremonies will apply too to religious organisations that conduct prayer services during the Hungry Ghost Festival from Aug 19 to Sept 16. The number, however, excludes religious workers. So you can forget about buying flower garlands for your favorite getai singer or bidding on auspicious items at live auctions. Maybe virtual garlands paid with PayNow, instead? Or, as the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, advises: “… consider alternative forms such as digital recordings that allow worshippers to safely participate in such activities”.
You can now shop online for Hungry Ghost Festival merch
Because it’s 2020 and there are savvy websites around like Kimzua (their store slogan is “we have money to burn”) and po-pi.com.sg that let you add joss sticks, paper offerings and hell notes to cart. They even have curated bundle deals for the clueless so you don’t buy and burn the wrong stuff (and have Great-Grandaunt reprimanding you in a dream). Just like your favourite clothing sites, Po-pi.com.sg has section tabs like Food Series, Clothing Series, Villa Series and Servants to let you shop very precisely.
New things to buy… and burn
Retail therapy? Hell, yes! Now you can shop for Good Class Bungalows, condos (the entire building, not just a miserable 99-year, 300 sq ft studio), Gucci bags, McDonald’s meals, MacBooks, massage chairs and SK-II skincare. These are all made of paper, of course, and are meant to be burnt so that the deceased can continue living in a material world.