Zhong Yuan Jie (Hungry Ghost Festival)

Category: Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events

Zhong Yuan Jie (中元节) takes place on the seventh month of the Lunar calendar. It is mostly observed by Chinese Buddhists and Taoists who believe that during this time, colloquially known as "seventh month" or 七月 ("seventh month" in Chinese), the gates of Hell are opened, releasing spirits who roam the earth.

Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations are typically held in heartland estates, where many Singaporeans resideHungry Ghost Festival celebrations are typically held in heartland estates, where many Singaporeans reside. Source: Choo Yut Shing on Flickr

The period is also commonly referred to as "Hungry Ghost Festival", with reference to the belief that spirits are hungry because they do not have descendants to make offerings to them. However, it is not just mischievous spirits who roam the earth during the seventh month – it is also believed that dead ancestors may come back to observe the living.

Hence, there are various practices associated with entertaining and appeasing these spirits. For instance, believers will burn joss sticks, paper money and paper effigies such as houses and cars, and make offerings in the form of food. There will also be large-scale performances called getai (歌台)which provide entertainment to both the spirits and the living. The first row of seats at these performances will always be left empty for the spirits.

There are many other superstitions associated with Hungry Ghost Festival, such as not getting married or moving houses during the month, not wearing clothes in the colour red, not swimming (especially at night) and not eating the food left out for the spirits.

While the festival is observed in communities with significant Chinese Buddhist and Taoist populations all over Asia, Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore has evolved with the times. For example, getai performances have evolved from comprising traditional Chinese opera and puppetry shows to presenting more modern performances featuring English, Mandarin, dialect and even Korean pop songs.


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