When the seventh month of the ancient Chinese calendar comes around, the Chinese celebrate what is known as the Ghost Festival. The observance is associated with the full moon and coincides with the new season and the fall harvest. In this article, you will learn more about the holiday and how people celebrate.
During the seventh month, it is believed that the gates of hell open up and the ghosts are allowed to roam freely. This is the time where they are thought to look for food and entertainment. The ghosts that are released are thought to be the ancestors of those who forgot to pay tribute to them after they died. Some of the ghosts may have never received a proper send-off. They are described as looking thin in the necks because their family has not fed them.
Families are encouraged to offer prayers for their departed relatives, offer food and drink, as well as burn ‘hell bank notes’. Items made out of joss paper are believed to have value in the afterlife, so loved ones will also burn joss paper objects. In an effort to please the ghosts, the paper items are in the shapes of cars, houses, and televisions. Families also take the time to pay homage to other unknown ghosts that are wandering around with homeless souls. It is their hopes that the ghosts will not intrude on their lives and cause unhappiness.
On the 14th day of the seventh month, a large feast is held for the ghosts. Families bring samples of food and situates them on an offering table to appease the ghost. This tradition is meant to keep away bad luck. Throughout Asia, there are different rituals and traditions that are observed. In some countries in East Asia, people come to enjoy live performances. The first row of seats are always left empty so that they can occupy the ghosts. The shows are held at night with lots of loud music and sounds, which are thought to attract and appease the ghosts. Examples of shows include dramas and Chinese opera.
Buddhists and Taoists hold ritual ceremonies in the afternoon and night meant to free ghosts from any suffering. They construct altars for the dead. The priests and monks also participate in the rituals for the dead, where they toss rice and other small foods into the air in all directions as a way to serve the ghosts.
In the evening, incense are burnt in front of the doors of households. This ritual represents the prosperity of the Chinese culture. Because of this, families believe that the more incense burned will equate in increased prosperity. During the festival, shops close their doors , leaving the streets open for the ghosts. Altars filled with incense are placed in the middle of each street. Fresh fruit and sacrifices are also placed on the altars.
The 14 days that follow the festival is spent making sure the ghosts find their way back to hell. Water lanterns in the shape of the lotus flower are set outside of the home. They believe the lanterns guide the ghosts back to the underworld. When the lights in the lantern go out, it is said they have found their way back safely.