The closest celebration in China to Halloween in the United States is The Hungry Ghost Festival celebrated the 14th or 15th night of the 7th lunar month in July or August. This year that day fell on August 17th.
The Ghost Festival, also known as The Hungry Ghost Festival, is a traditional Chinese festival and holiday celebrated by Chinese in many countries, in which ghosts and/or spirits of deceased ancestors come from the lower realm and/or hell to visit the living.
Buddhists and Taoists in China claim that the Ghost Festival originated with the canonical scriptures of Buddhism, but many of the visible aspects of the ceremonies originate from Chinese folk religion, and other local folk traditions (The Ghost Festival in Medieval China by Stephen Teiser).
In America, most children wear costumes and go door to door collecting free candy. In China, the opposite takes place; food is offered to dead ancestors, joss paper is burned, and scriptures are chanted.
Chinese Culture.net says the Hungry Ghost Festival is “Celebrated mostly in South China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and especially in Singapore and Malaysia.” It is believed by many Chinese that during this month, the gates of hell are opened to let out the hungry ghosts who want food.
By comparison, History.com says, “Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.”
I think it’s interesting that the dead linked both America’s Halloween and China’s Hungry Ghost Festival, at least historically.
As a child, I loved wearing a costume on Halloween and going out “trick-or-treating” at night to return home with a heavy bag (usually a pillowcase) filled with candy.
I still remember how much my stomach hurt and how terrible I felt after gorging myself on all that free processed sugar.
Today, due to the epidemic of diabetes and overweight or obese children in the United States (also in China mostly among its new middle class), I stopped celebrating Halloween years ago, and do not give candy to children. The last time I gave treats to children on Halloween, I handed out small boxes of raisins (sweet dried grapes) instead of candy, and one mother called me cheap.
But Science Daily.com comes to my defense with: “Teenagers who consume a lot of added sugars in soft drinks and foods may have poor cholesterol profiles—which may possibly lead to heart disease in adulthood, according to first-of-its-kind research reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.”
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, “Teenagers and young adults consume more sugar drinks than other age groups and have been linked to poor diet quality, weight gain, obesity, and, in adults and children, type 2 diabetes.”
The American Diabetes Association says, “25.8 million children and adults in the US have diabetes while 79 million have prediabetes. Due to excessive sugar consumption, the risk of diabetes may lead to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system disease, and/or amputation of feet and legs.”
Maybe Americans should learn something from the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival. Do not feed that sweet addictive candy to children. Instead, give the sugar to the dead and have your children eat apples, because there’s a lot of truth to the old saying that if you eat an apple a day, it will help keep the doctor away. If you doubt that, read this from Science Daily.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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