Hungry Ghost Month

The Hungry Ghost Month is sort of like the Chinese version of Halloween, except it lasts one month instead of one day.

It’s the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The beginning of Hungry Ghost Month typically occurs sometime in late July or August of the Western, or Gregorian, calendar. This year, 2023, Hungry Ghost Month starts August 16.

During the seventh month, the gates of hell are open and ghosts wander the earth hoping for a meal and some entertainment. Yin energy is said to be dominant during this period, which is attractive to ghosts.

If you look at the ancient yin-yang symbol, yin energy is the black portion. Yin energy is feminine, passive and cool, while its flip side, yang energy, is masculine, active and heated. In Chinese philosophy, neither is better than the other. However, the two must be in balance or things won’t work well.

Hungry Ghost Month is a major festival for Chinese people of the Taoist and Buddhist faiths. They burn joss sticks, ghost money and ghost goods (watches, cars, houses and other luxury goods made with papier-mache) to ensure their ancestors are well taken care of in the afterlife. They also place food and fruit offerings on makeshift altars.

People with the sixth sense may glimpse ghosts with long, pencil-thin necks feasting on the food late at night. It’s also said that if you taste the food from the altar (please don’t—you’ll anger the spirit world), it would be flat and bland because its essence already has been devoured by ghosts.

At this time, temporary stages would be set up to provide music and entertainment for the spirit world. You’ll see them in countries with large Chinese populations. Chinese opera was the popular choice in the past. Today, it’s more likely to be live music performances and comedy skits.

One important warning: don’t sit in the first two rows of these performances, known as “getai.” These first-class seats are reserved for the dead.

The month culminates in the Hungry Ghost Festival on the 15th day (August 30 this year), when a big feast is prepared for the dead. This is also the day where the wall between the world of the living and the realm of ghosts are thinnest, so beware.

The ghost month is generally considered a period of bad luck, so there are some things you should avoid doing. Don’t start a major business operation, and try to postpone major events such as weddings or medical procedures.

Other warnings to help you stay safe during this period:

  • Don’t swim at night or drowning victims might decide they need a friend and drag you under.
  • Don’t answer if you hear someone calling your name in the middle of the night.
  • Don’t summon spirits (keep the ouija board in the closet). This is the time when the spirits are strongest.
  • Don’t stick your chopsticks in your bowl of rice or spirits might mistake the food for one of their offerings.
  • Don’t leave your front door open at night in case something ghastly wanders in.
  • Don’t kill any unusual insects that enter your house. It may be your ancestors paying a visit.