Ghost Month and the Hungry Ghost Festival: What you need to know

Offerings by the pavement in Singapore during the Ghost Month. (Photo: Getty Images)
Offerings by the pavement in Singapore during the Ghost Month. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Ghost Month starts on Friday (29 July) in Singapore.

Taking place during the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar, the Ghost Month marks the period when the gates of heaven and hell are believed to be open, and ghosts and spirits of the deceased can return to the land of the living.

The Hungry Ghost Festival, or Zhong Yuan Jie, which marks the peak of the Ghost Month, falls on 12 August this year, with believers burning incense and joss paper, as well as paper replicas.

Those in the heartlands will often witness colourful getai stage shows set up, with loud music, but remember to avoid sitting in the first "empty" row.

The Ghost Month ends on 26 August.

The festival is believed to have been celebrated in Singapore since the country's time as a British colony. In the many public housing estates in Singapore, large bins are often set up for practitioners to burn their offerings, and the various Town Councils often remind residents not to burn these offerings elsewhere.

Are people allowed to burn their offerings in public?

According to the National Environment Agency, the burning of joss paper "is a religious practice and not regulated by any law".

"As such activities are carried out for religious reasons; we have to take into consideration the multi-religious nature of our society," the NEA says.

Superstitions and beliefs

The list of do's and don'ts during the Ghost Month are numerous, from avoiding red to avoiding tapping your friend on their shoulder.

Some just involve basic respect, such as not stepping on offerings put by the roadside or pavements.

A general trend is that the more superstitious will avoid things such as moving homes or renovating, but some might even give swimming at night a miss.

Ghost Month around the world

The Ghost Month and Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated by many across the globe, not just in Singapore. It has its roots in Taoist and Buddhist culture, and the practice of ancestor worship.

The significance of the festival does differ between the two somewhat. The Taoist origins focus more on appeasing the wandering spirits during the month, whereas in Buddhist culture the festival is more about piety and remembering ancestors, like the legend of Mu Lian.

The story goes that Mu Lian sought help from Buddha and made offerings to alleviate the sufferings of his vegetarian mother, who had been punished in hell for consuming meat unknowingly.

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