Halloween comes from a Celtic tradition of celebrating the end of summer. It has been transformed into a fun night of dressing up, divulging in sweets, and getting a scare or two. 

Western celebrations might spend an evening being spooky for Halloween, but Asian cultures have an entire Ghost Month. During Ghost Month, the gates of the afterlife are opened, and the spirits of the dead walk Earth once more.  

“七月半,鬼门开“ : On the fourteenth of the seventh month, the gate of hell opens.In my ghost stories article, I discussed the E-Gui, or “hungry ghost,” within Chinese culture. There is an entire festival surrounding the celebration of hungry ghosts. It is mainly celebrated in the Jiangxi and Hunan Provinces of China. 

The ghost festival is also popular in parts of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan. It is said that this day, in particular, is when ghosts return from the underworld to wander the earth. 

To ward against evil, Chinese families worship their ancestors to ask for protection and blessings. 

The 2020 Ghost Festival was celebrated on September 2, and the 2021 Ghost Festival will be August 21. While celebrations were halted due to COVID-19, digital celebrations took place on social media. 

Traditional Chinese operas are the main source of entertainment during the festival. The newer shows are referred to as Getai. 

This year, these performances were streamed live on the production companies’ Facebooks. People also got more creative with their offerings, like selling masks for the afterlife.

Celebrations often feature a pop-up statue of the Ghost King, keeper to the gates of hell. He commands the wandering spirits. People burn offerings of incense at his temple as a plea to return the ghosts to the underworld and shut the gates tightly.

During the festival, families offer up food, such as steamed buns, to relatives that are still traveling to the underworld. Descending into hell works up an appetite! Candles are lit to ward off ghosts and lead them back to the underworld.

Traditional offerings may have included seven pairs of chopsticks, seven glasses of wine, and a wooden fruit box to show respect to the ancestors. People on Twitter show more modern offerings of Sprite and Coke bottles.

Some helpful mortals even provided a step-by-step guide of Ghost Festival etiquette and survival.

The BBC recently documented how Chinese communities across Asia celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival. Check out these images from past years!

While celebrations couldn’t be as extravagant as normal, people got creative for the Hungry Ghost Festival. I’m sure the ancestors still appreciated it. I hope they made sure to socially distance on their trip back to the underworld!

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Emma Federer

Emma Federer is a wacky screenwriter that uses her voice to celebrate of all things Asian: from C-pop to female stand-ups to the heart-warming experiences of queer Asian Americans.
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