Ghost Festival 鬼节
The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, 鬼节 (guǐ jié) is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in certain Asian countries. In Chinese culture, the seventh month of the lunar calendar is regarded as the Ghost Month, 鬼月 (guǐ yuè) where the gates of hell will be opened from the 1st till the 30th day of the month. Ghosts and spirits, including those of deceased ancestors, will be able to come out from their realm to visit the living.
Activities during the month include preparing food offerings, burning incense, and burning papier-mâché replicas of material items such as money, clothes, gold and other fine goods such as mobile phones as seen in modern times, for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Elaborate meals (usually vegetarian meals) would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family, treating the deceased as if they were still living.
This is very different to the Qingming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day which is celebrated in spring, where living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors. During the Ghost Festival, the living pay their respect to all the deceased, both young and old. The fifteenth day of the Ghost Month is known as the Ghost Day. It is believed that on this day the realms of the deceased (Heaven and Hell) and the realm of the living are open simultaneously. Apart from providing food offerings to their own deceased family members and friends, Taoists and Buddhists would also take the opportunity to pray for wandering or lost spirits to lessen any sufferings that are being endured by them. Other common rituals include, buying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns into rivers, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of ancestors and other deities. There are many taboos in the Ghost Month such as not to acknowledge random calls of your name at night as they may be the siren calls of lost spirits beckoning you to the nether world. Children and the elderly are encouraged not to venture out on at night as they are more vulnerable to wayward spirits on the prowl, especially in the wee hours. It is also considered bad luck to get married or to move residence during this month.
If you would like to know more about the Ghost Festival or would like to teach your children about it, one of the best child friendly illustrations of this festival, in my opinion, is the Disney cartoon, Coco (2017).