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Hungry Ghost Festival: The Do’s and Don’ts

Updated: Aug 5

The gates of hell have opened, beware the night! The hungry ghost festival is here.

Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

The Hungry Ghost Festival, or Zhong Yuan Jie (中元节), starts from 29 July and will end on 26 August, this is also known as the seventh month in the lunar calendar. Even though the festival falls only on the 15thday of the lunar month – 12 August, people believe that the gates of hell take 14 days to open, and another 14 days to close, thus the entire month. .


This festival in Singapore is mostly observed by Buddhists and Taoists, and they believe that ghosts that are freed from hell are here to entertain themselves, visit their families, and can become mischievous if not respected or unentertained during their time back in the land of the living. Believers honour the dead by burning “ghost money” or joss paper, as well as performing of “getai”, or operas, in big empty fields or in some housing estates.


Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

Whether or not this festival follows your beliefs, here are some Do’s and Don’ts so that you do not offend anybody (dead or alive), and more importantly, not bring home any unwanted guests:


Do’s

1. Ignore a presence if you feel one


“Ignorance is bliss” as the saying goes. If you feel a chill running down your spine, or the feeling you get when someone may be staring you down, fret not, stay calm and walk quickly to a well-lit area.


Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

2. Close your umbrellas indoors


Spirits may take shelter under them alongside you, and may inadvertently follow you back into your home.


3. Watch your step for offerings


One of the most important Do’s to remember for this festival would be to avoid stepping on any offerings found laid on the sidewalk or on the floor. As stepping on these offerings may incur the wrath of the spirits the offerings were meant for, always remember to apologise if you do accidentally step on them.


Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

4. Avoid wearing the colours black or red


Spirits are particularly attracted to the colour red and black (yes this includes painting your nails black). The superstition states that people who were buried in red are out to seek revenge. Since this year’s Hungry Ghost Festival coincides with National Day, be extra careful. Spirits also identify one another with their signature black nails, thus if you are planning to go for a manicure soon to paint your nails in a dark shade of colour, you might want to put that off for now.


Photo by Sasha Kim

5. Stay away from swimming


There is a superstition that spirits lurk in waters to play a prank on unsuspecting swimmers by pulling them underwater, no matter the time of day.

Photo by Taylor Marx

Don’ts

1. Do not respond when someone calls out your name or taps your shoulder from behind


Even if the voice sounds familiar, be careful when turning your head over your shoulder. Spirits are believed to imitate the voices of our loved ones when trying to trick you into revealing themselves.


Photo by Johannes Krupinski on Unsplash

2. Do not leave your chopsticks upright in your bowl of food


Have you ever gotten scolded by your parents for doing so? They might have a valid point. By doing so, spirits may mistake your bowl of food for an offering and may get upset when they see you messing with “their” food.



Photo by Felicia Montenegro on Unsplash

3. Do not kill any insects especially moths or butterflies


Creepy crawlies are your friends! Chinese superstition believes that your loved ones might be reincarnated in the form of an insect, and have chosen to come back and visit you. So hold back the urge from swatting them, instead leave them alone, and tell them you appreciate if they check in on you from a far distance rather than flying straight towards your face.


Photo by Nida

4. Do not sit on the first row of Getai performances


Be sure to check out a Getai performance if you get the chance, but be mindful of the empty first row. These seats are reserved specially for the VIPs of the month.


Photo by cottonbro

5. Do not bring back money found on the floor


The temptation to be a few cents richer might be tough, but there is a greater significance why the money was left on the floor. Some people leave coins as an offering for the deceased, while some also believe that the spirits use money as a way to possess you or follow you home.