An annual Chinese tradition for spirits of the afterlife, Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore is full of dos and don’ts.
Singaporeans can be a superstitious lot. From lucky numbers and urban legends to sticking to the rules for Chinese New Year, we love indulging in the unexplained. If you’re superstitious, you’ll know that during Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore (16 August to 14 September 2023 to be exact), ghosts are said to revisit the land of the living. Particularly on the 15th night of the seventh month, on 30 August, when Ghost Day hits.
It’s a custom of Chinese culture that happens during the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Observed by Taoists and Buddhists in Singapore, it’s one of the most revered events of the year with celebrations and rituals. Btw, it’s nothing like Halloween. Hungry Ghost Month is rather sombre; it’s not about scares or costumes. It’s believed that the gates of hell open, and spirits return from the afterlife to feast. That’s why you’ll spot people burning joss paper as offerings to their ancestors who’ve passed on and hosting getai (Chinese opera) concerts around the island to appease them.
No need to get the heebie-jeebies, though. These spirits are generally harmless… as long as you don’t disturb them. Not sure what you shouldn’t do during Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore? We’ve jotted ‘em all down for you. Gotta respect the tradition, or you might just end up in our next round-up of local ghost stories!
What to avoid during Hungry Ghost Festival
1. Don’t plan midnight activities
The souls of the dead are said to wander through the streets at night, so you’d best be tucked away safe at home after sunset. If you’re really itching to head out, at least get a buddy to accompany you so the ghosts won’t involve you in their mischief.
2. Don’t be alarmed by the smell of smoke
Unless it’s a building on fire (that’s not made of paper), it’s often someone burning offerings for their ancestors. These come in the form of paper, including things like money, houses, cars, tech gadgets and even clothes. So don’t be surprised to see plenty of ash fluttering about, especially on the first, 15th and last day of the month.
If you walk past a small fire or incense burning by the road during Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore, accompanied by what looks like discarded food and drinks, leave it alone! That’s someone’s (or something’s) dinner.
3. Don’t move into a new home
Unless you want the spirits to invite themselves into your new abode, it’s best to hold off those moving vans for the time being. Plus, this month is considered to be an unlucky one in Chinese tradition, so press pause on any big events.
4. Don’t get married
Since it’s considered an inauspicious month, celebrating a joyful occasion like a wedding can be seen as disrespectful. Some people also think marriages officiated during Hungry Ghost Festival may not last long. However, if you and your family aren’t big on superstition, you might just save on wedding costs as packages may be cheaper.
5. Don’t renovate your home
Hold off on making any changes to your home. That includes shifting furniture around and renovating your abode. It’s believed this might disturb any residing spirits.
6. Don’t hang your laundry to dry overnight
It’s believed damp clothing is an invitation for wandering spirits to try them on and ultimately ‘follow’ you into the house. But then again, shouldn’t you be drying laundry when the sun’s still out?!
7. Don’t kill any moths (or insects)
Have you ever seen a moth at a funeral? Chinese believe spirits can be reincarnated as insects, especially moths. So if you see any of these winged creatures crashing your home, nudge ‘em out gently. They’re probably just saying hello, or they could be a relative dropping by for a visit…
8. Don’t hang around water
It’s the season for drowned spirits to come out and prey… on the living. So if you’re feeling superstitious, forgo those swimming workouts during this time. You’ll also want to avoid Bedok Reservoir at night (just sayin’).
9. Don’t photograph offerings
Cameras are said to ‘trap’ lurking spirits, so if you want to avoid ghostly figures or ‘extra people’ in your photos, keep that phone in your pocket. Don’t snap photos of offerings you chance upon, no matter how grand or ‘Instagrammable’ they are. Not only is it rude, but you might also bring home unwanted company. And it goes without saying, you never wanna touch those offerings, accidentally or not.
10. Don’t place your chopsticks vertically in a rice bowl
Hungry ghosts wandering around may mistake your chopsticks for joss stick offerings. So unless you want to attract their attention, don’t do it. Not to mention, it’s rude – grandma definitely won’t approve.
11. Don’t go snooping around where you aren’t supposed to
If there’s one thing horror movies have taught us, it’s not to visit creepy spots by yourself. Sure, Singapore is a safe country, but why tempt the spirits during the most ‘haunted’ season of the year? So whatever you do, don’t go exploring haunted places in Singapore.
12. Don’t sit in the front row at getai performances
Aside from food, ghosts love a good show, or so the Chinese believe. Spirits are entertained through getai, which are extravagant performances that often involve traditional song, theatre and puppetry. Don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a Chinese opera popping up in your ‘hood. But while performances like these are free, it’s best if you don’t plant yourself in the front row of seats. Who do you think they’re reserved for?!
13. Don’t wear red
Yeah, it’s attention-grabbing, but during this time, it’ll catch the eye of the wrong target. Hungry ghosts are believed to be attracted to this colour, so you’re better off saving it for National Day or Christmas.
14. Don’t leave your door open at night
We’re not sure why you would have your doors open at night but if you do, remember to close them! Open doors are seen as invitations for spirits or negative energy to enter your home, and that’s not exactly a vibe we wanna welcome.
In short, take note of all these things to avoid during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore because hey, it’s better to be safe than sorry!