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The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. This day falls in July or August in our Western calendar. In southern China, the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated by some on the 14th day of the seventh lunar month. The people there are said to have begun celebrating the festival a day earlier during a time of long warfare to avoid being attacked by enemies during the inauspicious day.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is one of several traditional festivals in China to worship ancestors. Others include the Spring Festival, the Qingming Festival, and the Double Ninth Festival. In Jiangxi Province and Hunan Province, the Hungry Ghost Festival is considered to be more important than the Qingming Festival and the Double Ninth Festival. The Taoist name for the Hungry Ghost Festival is the Zhongyuan Festival (中元节), and Buddhists call it the Yulanpen Festival.
They perform special ceremonies to avoid the wrath of the ghosts such as putting the family’s ancestral tablets on a table, burning incense, and preparing food three times that day. The main ceremony is usually held at dusk. People put the family’s ancestral tablets and old paintings and photographs on a table and then burn incense near them. Plates of food are put out for the ghosts on the table, and the people may kowtow in front of the memorial tablets and report their behavior to their ancestors to receive a blessing or punishment. People also feast on this night, and they might leave a place open at the table for a lost ancestor.
They want to feed the hungry ghosts who have been wandering the land since the beginning of Hungry Ghost Month. It is thought that after two weeks of activity, they must be very hungry.
Hungry Ghost Month
The Hungry Ghost Festival is one of several important festival days of Ghost Month (鬼月) — the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
It is thought that the ghosts of Chinese ancestors are let out of hell on the first day of the month. It has been the scariest month of the year for thousands of years. They roam around looking for peculiar entertainment, and many fearful Chinese try to avoid swimming or being alone at night lest an enemy ghost comes after them.
The ghosts attack their enemies, and they might be angry or malicious in general. So the Chinese have certain traditions about what to do about the situation on the first day, the 14th or 15th for the Hungry Ghost Festival, and the last day of the special month.
The First Day of Hungry Ghost Month
One the first day of the month, people burn make-believe paper money outside their homes or businesses, along the sides of roads, or in fields. Sometimes, they go to temples for this task. On a trip to China during this time, you'll probably see people occupied with this activity or find the ghost money on the ground with ashes and remains. They want to give the ghosts the money they need during their special month.
People also light incense and may make sacrifices of food to worship the hungry unhappy ghosts. People trust that the ghosts won't do something terrible to them or curse them after eating their sacrifices and while holding their money. They put up red painted paper lanterns everywhere including business and residential areas.
There are street ceremonies, market ceremonies, and temple ceremonies. During street and market ceremonies, people gather at the streets and markets to celebrate the festival. At temple ceremonies, monks in temples organize festive activities. Many believe it is important to appease the ghosts to avoid spiritual attack.
The Last Day of Hungry Ghost Month
The last day of the seventh lunar month is marked with a special festival too. This is the day that the gates of hell are closed up again. People celebrate and observe this day in various ways. Many burn more paper money and clothing so that the ghosts can use these things in their hell society. The pictures and tablets of ancestors may be put away back on the shelves or hung back on the walls where they were before.
In order to drive the ghosts away, Taoist monks chant to make them leave. The ghosts are thought to hate the sound, and therefore scream and wail.
Many families float river lanterns on little boats in the evening. People make colorful lanterns out of wood and paper, and families write their ancestors’ name on the lanterns. The ghosts are believed to follow the floating river lanterns away.
History of the Hungry Ghost Festival
The origin of the Hungry Ghost Festival and the Ghost Month (鬼月) in China is uncertain. Cultures in Asia from India to Cambodia to Japan share similar beliefs about the month, and these traditions seem to date from before Buddha. More ancient folk religions covered the entire area.
Some of the ancient folk religion is incorporated in Taoism, the indigenous religion of China. The gates of hell are opened on the first day of the seventh month, and hungry ghosts are released to find food or to take revenge on those who have behaved badly according to Taoist records. The Taoists chant together to free the ghosts.
Another story says King Yama (the king of hell) opens the gates of hell and allows a few wild ghosts to enjoy the sacrifices on the first day of the seventh lunar month. The gates are closed on the last day of that month, and the wild, hungry ghosts return to hell. Some Chinese think that the gates of heaven are also opened during this month, and they worship their ancestors from heaven too.
Comparison of the Hungry Ghost Festival to Western Halloween
The Hungry Ghost Festival comes at a time of year when the moon is full near the end of summer. In many ways, this festival is reminiscent of Halloween or the Night of the Dead in Western countries.
Cultures from Europe to China have traditional days of the dead or ghost days that are thousands of years old that were part of the tribal folk religions before the advent of Christianity in Europe and Buddhism in Asia. In Britain, Halloween originated from the traditional holiday of Celts in Great Britain who believed that the last day of October was “the day of the dead” or “the ghost day” when ghosts crossed over the boundary between the living and the dead. The Chinese belief is similar.
Chinese believe that on the days of Ghost Month and especially on the night of the full moon there is more of a bridge between the dead and the living, so they must take precautions or honor the dead. They perform ceremonies or traditions to protect themselves from attacks or pranks by the ghosts and to honor and worship their ancestors or famous people of the past. It is believed that the ghosts of dead people can help and protect them.
Matthew (Emory Cohen) is a teenage boy in New York who has therapy together with his father Frank (Steve Schirripa), because of their troubled communication. The boy runs away during their session. Angela (Sharon Angela), his mother, is worried but Frank is more concerned with his radio show, and whether his techs got his vodka. He proceeds to use a great deal of cocaine as well before the show begins. Matthew goes to a park where a lot of homeless people are congregated, where he is picked up by a couple. They give him alcohol and drugs, after which the woman has sex with Matthew while the man watches.
Nadia (Aunjanue Ellis) abandons her room because she's a month behind on her rent. She reconnects with an old friend from a yoga school, has sex with an old boyfriend, then leaves her yoga center friend's house when her friend becomes upset by her story of her relationship with Gus, her most recent lover. She has a meal on the stairs of a house. The woman living there comes home and tells her to leave, but Nadia refuses. The woman throws a bucket of water over her, and Nadia puts the bucket on the woman's head and beats on it.
Gus (Nick Sandow) is just getting out of a ninety-day rehab stint. He immediately goes out and gets drunk with an old man he meets in a restaurant. He calls Nadia again and again, but she won't answer his calls. He meets a woman named Lisette (Bess Rous), who it develops has been in the same meditation class which he and Nadia attended. He succeeds in unnerving, and then seducing her, but instead of following through on that, he tells her to go home by herself.
Matthew calls his father, who refuses to pick him up because he's in the middle of his show. He is picked up by his uncle Joey (Joe Caniano). Once home, he won't say what happened, even though Angela tells him she won't get angry. He tries to kill himself, then Angela and Joey head up to the mountains with him to help him work out his distress.
Frank, once he finds out what has happened, heads up to the mountains on a train, where he meets Nadia, who is fleeing the city. He begins to suffer chest pains, and Nadia calls for help; he's then gotten off the train. She is waiting for him when he comes out of the ER, and during a meal together, she encourages him to come to a meditation class with her. Lissette is in the class, but she and Nadia don't know each other, and don't speak. Frank begins to relax as the teacher leads them through guided breathing exercises. Gus, having first taken an overdose of pills, arrives, causing distress to Nadia and Lisette by his presence. He sits next to Nadia, who obviously doesn't want him there, but with a blissful smile, he lies down on the floor and closes his eyes.
2. They Wait
They Wait is a 2007Canadian horror film. It stars Jaime King as a mother attempting to find the truth and save her son, Regan Oey, when threatened by spirits during the Chinese tradition of Ghost Month. The other leading star is Chinese Canadian actor Terry Chen, who plays her husband. It was both filmed, and set, in the city of Vancouver, in British Columbia in Canada, and was featured at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival.
Married couple Sarah (King) and Jason (Chen), and son Sammy (Oey), travel to Vancouver for the funeral of Uncle Raymond (Foo). During this time, Sammy begins to see ghosts and falls gravely ill, his illness coinciding with the Chinese festival of Ghost Month. After traditional western medicine fails to help Sammy, Sarah turns to a mysterious pharmacist who tells her that her son is held in a death grip by a living corpse. Sarah now must find what the spirits want before the last day of Ghost Month, or Sammy will be lost forever.
3. A Month of Hungry Ghost
A Month of Hungry Ghosts is a 2008 film about the seventh-lunar-month Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore. A Month of Hungry Ghosts is directed by Singapore-based American film director Tony Kern and co-produced by Genevieve Woo, a Singaporean television news anchor and producer with Channel NewsAsia, and Tony Kern. The film was released locally in Singapore on 7 August 2008. The film is distributed by Golden Village Pictures, and premiered at Golden Village VivoCity, Golden Village Plaza and Sinema Old School.
In parts of Asia each year, during the seventh lunar month, it is believed that the gates of Hell are opened and all the souls are set free to wander the Earth. At this time, many spirits roam around trying to fulfill their past needs, wants and desires. These are the "hungry ghosts". Numerous religious rituals and folk performances, like street operas, take place during the seventh lunar month to try to appease the spirits.
This film captures the seventh-lunar-month rituals in Singapore, a world-class centre of business and culture inhabited by many different immigrants from other Asian countries. While the hungry-ghost rituals originated in China and are still practised throughoutSouth-east Asia in various forms, they are slowly dying out in many countries or may only be performed for several days of the month.
Singapore is unique in that the rituals are brought to life throughout the entire seventh lunar month. At the same time, the immigrants in Singapore have brought their own native rituals to the small island nation where the hungry-ghost month still thrives. A Month of Hungry Ghosts captures these rituals and performances throughout an entire seventh lunar month in Singapore.
4. Hungry Ghost Ritual
After incurring debts from his failed business venture in China, Zong Hua (Cheung) returns to Malaysia after a decade's hiatus. The demoralised Zong Hua faces problems finding a job and tries hard to get used to things at home, including his estranged relationship with his step-father, Xiaotian, who runs a Cantonese opera troupe, and half-sister, Jing Jing (Cathryn Lee). Jing Jing is hostile towards Zong Hua as she always has the impression that the death of their mother was caused by the excessive fights between Zong Hua and his step-father.