Feeding China’s Hungry Ghosts

October 25, 2017

History.com says, “Halloween, one of the world’s oldest holidays, is still celebrated today in a number of countries around the globe. In Mexico and other Latin American countries, Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, honors deceased loved ones and ancestors. In countries such as Ireland, Canada and the United States, adults and children alike revel in the popular Halloween holiday, which derived from ancient festivals and religious rituals. Traditions include costume parties, trick-or-treating, pranks and games.”

The closest celebration in China to Halloween is The Hungry Ghost Festival celebrated the 14th or 15th night of the 7th lunar month. This year that day fell on September 5th while Ghost Month lasted from August 22nd to September 19th.

Similar to Latin America’s Day of the Dead, 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, 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.

History.com says, “Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now known as Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France. The Celts 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.”

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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