TUESDAY, AUGUST 24: Don’t get too scared – but several Asian countries will be marking the Hungry Ghost Festival today, and Taoists and Buddhists will be rigorously performing rituals to keep deceased spirits happy. It’s believed that the realms of Heaven and Hell are open to the realm of the living during this month, and today, devotees believe that deceased ancestors pay a visit to their living relatives. (During the rest of the month, it’s believed that ghosts wander freely. Wikipedia has details.)
To appease the spirits and bring them entertainment today, believers will often perform ancestor worship, offer food, burn any assortment of items and even set places for the spirits at the dinner table. In some East Asian countries, live performances are organized so that the first row of seats is left open for the ghosts (The Christian Science Monitor posted a captivating photo of a Ghost Festival rite); because ghosts are believed to bring so much bad luck to the living, believers do nearly anything possible to please them during their stay. The Hungry Ghost Festival is similar to Japan’s Obon, although festivities are usually more elaborate and other Asian countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia, hold large-scale concerts and other events for the lengthy festival. (The Hong Kong Tourism Board further explains the country’s traditions.)
Asians are very superstitious during the Hungry Ghost Festival, and many follow particular “rules” that are believed to keep the living safe. Some devotees avoid swimming during this month, since it’s believed evil ghosts can easily drown victims; children are encouraged to stay inside at night, since they are considered easily possessed; and moving is uncommon, since this month is considered inauspicious for such an act. Believers also take care to avoid camping trips and risky driving, since these, too, are believed to be situations that put the living at much – eery – risk.
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)