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Celebrating the Hungry Ghost Festival

 2017-09-06    Tilda    Other    Hong Kong    1358  

Ever wondered if other cultures celebrate Halloween too? Well yes, there’s the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong, and it’s all about connecting and respecting departed ancestors from the spirit realm. Forget about parties, booze, and dressing up as ghosts (leave that for your Halloween parties), and find out more about the Hungry Ghost Festival, which is celebrated in Hong Kong and many parts of the Asia with a Chinese population

A Brief History of the Hungry Ghost Festival

It is believed that the gates of hell open during the seventh lunar month, which usually falls sometime between August and September. Hungry ghosts are said to roam the Earth during this month, and there are many rituals that are meant to appease, entertain, and feed them.

Although the festival can be traced back to China pre-Buddhism, one of the popular stories of the festival trace back to Mulian, a disciple of Buddha. It is said that he had tried to save his mother from hell, and was instructed by the Buddha to offer food and mantra to relive her hunger. To further aid his mother to be born as a human again, the Buddha established the 14th day of the seven months of the lunar calendar for Mulian to offer food and robes to five hundred monks.

How is the Hungry Ghost Festival Celebrated?

In Hong Kong, the Hungry Ghost Festival is referred to as the Yu Lan Ghost Festival, mostly celebrated by the Chiu Chow (Chaozhou) community from the Guangdong province in China.  You may find families or most commonly older people occupying parks in neighborhoods or spaces close to their homes to offer incense and joss paper to their departed ancestors.  There are also live Chinese operas, which are staged to entertain the spirits during their short visit to the mortal realm. (2).jpg

Image Credit: Flickr

With the ever-increasing costs and standards of living, one can’t possibly expect the dead to be satisfied with a couple of meals and joss paper.  Pay close enough attention, and you may find the most exciting offerings, including elaborate paper houses, cars, iPhones, and paper “Prada” or “Louis Vuitton” bags and clothes.


Image Credit: scmp

If you happen to be in Hong Kong around this time, be sure to ask the locals if they know of any makeshift opera shows that pop up around the city to catch a glimpse of traditional Chinese opera. To catch the major events, check this schedule by the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Any taboos to know about?


Image Credit: pbs

One of the biggest No-Nos is to kick, trip over, or touch the food offerings that you see on the streets. They are meant for the spirits, so you may see locals apologize quickly when they’ve committed the taboo. Not swimming at night is another superstition that some people observe, as it is believed that spirits are lurking around the water, hoping to drown somebody for a chance to reincarnate. Also, red clothes are avoided, as it is believed that the color red attracts ghosts. It is a common saying that one who commits suicide while wearing red is sure to return to the mortal world for revenge.

Does it mean I shouldn’t be out and about exploring Hong Kong’s amazing nightlife?

No, certainly not. Lan Kwai Fong will not be deserted for the fear of wandering spirits, and it’s party as usual for tourist and locals who don’t believe in the tradition. However, the tradition is treated with respect so you probably wouldn’t expect to see parties with a Hungry Ghost theme.

Films to watch to get a taste of the supernatural in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, ghosts are as fearful as they are fascinating. Even from a thousand miles away, you could still get a glimpse of how Hong Kong sees the supernatural world by catching these films.

Mr Vampire


Image Credit: ancient-origins

This is your best introduction to the Chinese Hopping Vampire.  The Chinese Hopping Vampire is nowhere as dashing, mysterious, and sexy as the Hollywood vampire. Instead, it literally hops (don’t ask why), towards its victims and detects the human breath.


For a contemporary take on spookiness, watch Three, a horror film that has three segments. Going Home the segment based at Hong Kong, and is so excellently portrayed that Leon Lai won the Best Actor award in the Hong Kong Golden Horse Film Festival.

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