An annual Chinese tradition for the spirits of the afterlife, the Hungry Ghost Month has many dos and don’ts. We learnt the hard way...
You can’t say you’re surprised that we’re quite the superstitious lot. From lucky numbers and urban legends to sticking to a few rules for Chinese New Year, we love indulging in the unexplained. And if you’re superstitious, you’ll also know that around this time of year (11 August to 9 September in 2018, to be exact), ghosts are said to revisit the land of the living. It’s a custom of Chinese culture that’s traditionally honoured every seventh month of the Lunar Calendar, and it’s one of the most revered events of the year.
“Oh it’s just like Halloween” you might say, but Hungry Ghost Month is rather sombre and definitely not about cheap scares and costumes. It is believed that spirits return from the afterlife to feast, which is why you’ll spot numerous ceremonies and concerts around the island to appease them. But there’s no need to get the heebie jeebies; these spirits are generally harmless… as long as you don’t disturb them. Gotta respect the tradition, or else you might end up in our next roundup of local ghost stories.
Don’t be alarmed by friendly fires
Unless it’s a building on fire (that’s not made of paper), it’s often someone burning offerings for their ancestors. These offerings usually take the form of paper money and things like houses, cars, technology and even clothes in the form of paper. You’ll see plenty of ash fluttering about during this period and the smell of things burning. Also, if you chance upon a small fire or incense burning by the roadside during Hungry Ghost Month, accompanied by seemingly discarded food and drinks, leave it alone! That’s someone’s (or something’s) dinner.
Don’t make any major changes to your home
This includes shifting furniture around, and especially making renovations to your home duringHungry Ghost Month. It is believed that this might disturb any residing spirits. But if you must make any tweaks to your home decor, you might want to follow these feng shui tips for your home.
Don’t hang out your laundry to dry overnight
It is believed that damp clothing is an invitation for wandering spirits to try them on and ultimately ‘follow’ you back into the house. After all, shouldn’t you be drying laundry when the sun is still out?!
Don’t kill any moths (or insects)
Have you ever seen a moth at a funeral? Chinese believe that spirits can be reincarnated as insects, especially moths. So if you see any of these winged creatures crashing your home, nudge it out gently. It’s just saying hello or a relative dropping by for a visit…
Don’t hang around bodies of water, especially at night
‘Tis the season for drowned spirits to come out and prey… on the living. If you’re feeling superstitious, maybe cool down on swimming sessions this month and especially avoid Bedok Reservoir at night.
Lay off the selfies and photographs of offerings…
Come on, you don’t have to immortalise your makeup look in a selfie, at least not for Hungry Ghost Month. Cameras are said to be able to ‘trap’ lurking spirits so if you want to avoid ghostly figures or ‘extra people’ in your photos, keep that phone back in your pocket. Likewise, do not snap photos of offerings you chance upon as well no matter how grand or instagrammable they are, because not only is it rude, you might bring home some unwanted company too. Just ask our ed, Selina, about this one.
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 go to creepy places by yourself. Sure, Singapore is a safe place, but why tempt the spirits during the most ‘haunted’ season of the year? So whatever you do, don’t check out these haunted places in Singapore.
Don’t sit in the front row of Getai performances at the Hungry Ghost Festival
Aside from food, ghosts love a good show too, or so the Chinese believe. Chinese entertain these spirits through Getai, over-the-top performances that often involve traditional song, theatre, and puppetry. Don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a Chinese opera popping up in your neighbourhood. Oh, and while performances such as these are free, it’s best if you don’t plant yourselves in the front row of seats. Who do you think they’re reserved for?