Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hungry Ghost Festival

The 7th lunar month in the Chinese Calendar is the Ghost Month, and is considered most dangerous time of year. On its first day, the gates of hell are opened giving spirits access to the living.

This year, 2013, the 7th lunar month is from August 7 until September 4. Throughout the month, offerings, sacrifices and prayers are made to appease these spirits. 

Burning offerings for the Hungry Ghosts
Photo Credit: Abdul Aziz Agil
The spirits who died at sea, who committed suicide, who were greedy when living, and whose families have not been giving enough offerings throughout the year are considered Hungry Ghosts. These ghosts wander the earth, looking for food, entertainment, and occasionally revenge. Believers ensure their offerings are enough for their own relatives as well as for the hungry ghosts, to appease them as they are worried these spirits will cause them harm.

Ghost month offerings
Photo Credit: Celine Asril
Throughout the month, altars are found on sidewalks, with offerings of food, incense, and ghost money to be used in the afterlife. Roadside fires are kept alight, and it is taboo to go out at night for fear of encountering a malevolent spirit. Outdoor Chinese operas are performed to entertain and appease the ghosts, often with the front row of seats left empty for the wandering spirits. 

The 15th day of 7th lunar month (August 21, 2013), is Yu Lan, the Hungry Ghost Festival. This day is considered the peak day of the month, and sumptuous feasts are had. Taoists and Buddhists perform ceremonies to ease their suffering.

Food offerings
Photo Credit: User Ws227
On the last day of the month, the gates of hell close. Boat and lotus lanterns are set alight into waterways to guide the Hungry Ghosts back to the gates.

You can see a slideshow of photographs of the Hungry Ghost festival here.

UPDATE: There is a fantastic site that shares how to celebrate Chinese holidays with your family and this link will take you to their guide to celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival with ideas, crafts and books!


  1. I love learning so much about Chinese culture from your blog. This sounds a little bit like Halloween but rather extended :)

    1. Thank you Natalie! It does seem like a bit of a Chinese Halloween, doesn't it?

  2. I was thinking the same about the Halloween. I wonder if they think of it like most do Halloween here - a bit of fun and a bit tongue in cheek, or whether everyone takes it more seriously?

    1. I don't know...it seems those who believe in it do take it rather seriously... religious ceremonies, and a month's worth of offerings is quite a commitment! Though I imagine the younger generations, and those more urban see it as tongue in cheek.

  3. This is terrific information and I think the comparison to the Western Halloween is apt. Though most commentary about the Hungry Ghost Festival focuses on ghosts and spirits, it's important to point out the social emphasis placed on both filial piety and looking after the destitute. Ancestors are remembered inside the home during the Hungry Ghost Festival, while offerings for "stranger" ghosts who are less fortunate receive their offerings outside the home.


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