The Hungry Ghost Festival is held in a number of Asian countries and is associated with Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. According to the Chinese calendar it is traditionally held on the fifteenth night of the seventh month (which is a month sometimes referred to as Chinese Ghost Month).
During this month it is believed that the spirits of deceased friends and relatives come back from Heaven and Hell and visit with their living descendants. The descendants pay their respects to them in an attempt to absolve any suffering the deceased might be experiencing due to their actions in life.
The activities that take place include the burning of incense and joss paper whilst offering food. The deceased are treated as if they are still living and special meals are created with a place set at the table for the dead. Hungry Ghost Festival food is traditionally vegetarian.
Materialistic items are often recreated in paper-mâché and burnt too as an offering to the spirits. Paper boats and floating lanterns are also released, with an idea that lost spirits can use them as a guide.
Hungry Ghost Festival 2018 Singapore
The festival is probably celebrated most boisterously in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore where the event is often marked by huge concert performances. Thinking about how Halloween is celebrated in the US will give you some idea as to what to expect from your first visit to the Ghost Festival celebrations.
Singapore still follows the tradition where spirits are appeased by giving them offerings during rituals, otherwise the spirits cause trouble. The festival is also still held in the traditional seventh month.
In Singapore you’ll find the ritualistic offerings are more controlled, as you’d expect from a city as tidy as Singapore. In the run up to the Hungry Ghost Festival you’ll notice large metal bins being distributed throughout the streets. These are specifically designed for the burning of paper offerings (and don’t cause too much mess!)
Watch out for food offerings when making your way round the city. In Singapore it is not unusual for food to be left in the street or along footpaths and you’ll want to avoid treading in it. You might even see some dishes left at the foot of or hanging in trees.
The concerts are the most enjoyable part of the celebrations for outsiders. The idea behind them is that once the spirits have had their fill of food, they’ll probably want to sit down and enjoy a show.
You’ll see large tents erected in residential areas such as Yishun and Any Mo Kio as well as various Singapore tourist spots. Lively dinners are then followed by loud entertainment which varies depending on where you are. The traditional form is that of an elaborate Chinese opera, complete with tales of gods, goddesses and their battles beyond the mortal world. The overall entertainment section of the celebration is known as getai.
There’s also stand up comedy to keep the spirits laughing, singers and dancers too.
One thing to bear in mind at these celebrations is not taking someone’s seat, whether that person be dead or alive.
As is the running theme of these celebrations the dead are well catered for, with seats being dedicated to them to enable them to enjoy the show. If you’re not sure which seats are taken up by spirits don’t worry, they are traditionally situated in the front row and are often coloured red.
If you do sit in one by mistake take extra care, it is believed bad luck or sickness befalls those who take the seats of the dead.
The Hungry Ghost Festival and Modern Singapore
As you would expect from a city as new and forward thinking as Singapore, the traditional celebrations are seamlessly played out alongside more modern versions of the same theme.
At some celebrations you won’t see Chinese opera or traditional song and dance. At these celebrations, which are usually those visited by the younger generation, the getai is a very different thing. Don’t be surprised to see large stages dominated by LED lights and lasers. Young performers in sexy outfits perform modern pop songs in Mandarin but also in English. Techno music blasting out from large speakers with on stage DJs whipping up the crowd into a frenzy.
It’s enough noise to wake the dead…
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