Hungry Ghost Festival


The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated by the Singapore Chinese community on the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar which usually falls on August or September of the Western calendar. The Taoist Chinese believe that the gates of hell are opened during this month and the spirits of the dead are released to roam the earth. The Chinese also believe that the deceased family members will return to visit their relatives.

How is the hungry ghost festival celebrated?

Like the Chinese community in China, Hong Kong and Malaysia who also celebrate the Ghost Festival, Singapore Chinese celebrate by offering food, prayers, and burning joss sticks and hell money to pay tribute to their deceased relatives. The Chinese also offer food and burn hell money to other unknown wandering ghosts (hungry ghosts) so that these homeless souls will not interfere with their daily lives and cause bad luck or misfortune.

If you are in Singapore during this month, you will see Wayang (Chinese opera) and concert performances at outdoor stages (Chinese called it Getai) around the neighborhood. These performances are usually held at night. They are loud affairs with singing, dancing and opera amplified by loud speakers. These entertainments are actually for those hungry ghosts so as to please them but they are usually filled with living audiences. However, the first row of seats are usually left empty. Do you know why? Those seats are for the ghosts so remember not to take the front row seats if you happen to be one of the living audience there to enjoy the performance when you are in Singapore.

What is the unique part of the celebration in Singapore?

The unique part of the celebration in Singapore is the hungry ghost festival auction dinner which is the highlight of the celebration. Ghost festival group prayers are usually organized by different Chinese temples or Chinese communities. Member will pay their member fees annually or monthly and during the 7 month of the lunar calendar, the communities will organized a group prayer or some even hire Wayang troupes to give song performances. The organizer will buy food, fruits, packaged rice, canned food, sweets and others items to distribute equally and put them in red pails to pray to the hungry ghosts. After the prayer, members will bring home one of the red pails that contain prayer goodies to consume for good luck.

At night they will come back to the celebration venue to attend the hungry ghost festival feast with 8 or 10 course dinners served. The highlight of the night is the hungry ghost festival auction which is unique in Singapore ghost festival celebrations. The organizing communities will auction out a wide range of auspicious items that are either donated by the member or bought by the organizing community.

Singaporean Chinese believe if they are able to buy the item, it will bring them good luck for the year. The main reason for the auction is to raise funds to make offerings to those spirits who have no one left in the living world to look after them. The money raised during the auction also goes to charity and and to subsidise the following year's Zhong Yuan Jie. During the dinner there will also representatives from different charities going from table to table to ask for donations. Thus Singapore's hungry ghost festival is also a day for charitable donations. Do drop by at one of the neighboring ghost festival auction dinners to observe this unique Singapore festival culture if you are in Singapore during the ghost month.

Superstitions

Ghost festival is an inauspicious month as it is believed that there are lot of ghosts around the streets therefore there are some superstitions that some Chinese still observe.
Here is the list of advice to heed during the Hungry Ghost festival

  • The Chinese will not get married during Hungry Ghost Festival as it is considered inauspicious.
  • Children are advised to stay away from swimming pools during the 7th month as it is believed that the water spirits will drag these little ones into the water and drown them.
  • Avoid old trees. It is believed that the spirits will hide there.
  • Children are advised to return home early and not to wander around alone at night. This belief is due to the reason that the wandering ghosts might possess children. 
  • Chinese will not renovate or move house during this inauspicious month.
  • Chinese try to stay at home at night and will not go on overseas trips

Due to the rules that some Chinese still follow during this month most of the retail and travel agents' businesses will be affected. To belief it or not is up to you. This is a festival that is celebrated and observed by the Chinese through hundreds of years. Anyway while you are here be extra careful or if you are daring why not join the Singapore ghost tour to make your stay in Singapore interesting ? Who knows, you might be able to meet somebody from the other world...

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