In Chinese tradition, the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower world. It is celebrated by Singapore widely with "Getai" and lucky auctions.
Hungry Ghost Festival
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The 7th month of the lunar calendar is marked with the smell of burning incense in every housing estate, and getais popping up everywhere from heartland to even Orchard Road. For those who do not keep track of the lunar calendar, somehow you will know that the 7th month has arrived. It is supposed to be the month where the hell gate opens and spirits are free to roam for the entire month. Children have been warned to be home before the sky turns dark, and to stay home and not go out unnecessarily in case they become the target of evil spirits.
These days I don't think many people are superstitious and believe such stories about spirits roaming the earth, and we definitely do not make it a point to stay home at night. I find it rather entertaining to watch getais with all the performers in glitzy costumes though ...
The hungry ghost festival has been a part of singapore culture for many generations. No matter what race you are, this is the month, the 7th month to be specific where you stay at home and do not go out at night.
I always wonder, is it true that the ghost really come out during this month or is it just another story parents made many years ago to keep their children at home. The hungry ghost festival makes me scared, not because of the ghost, but the way people just disappear at night. Like the usual spots where there will be people becomes empty and all of a sudden, the eerie feeling sets in. You see people burning hell notes in the bins, some on drains, some in the middle of pavements and some even outsides their homes.
No matter what it is, it is always good to respect another's religion and practices. And I do take my own precautions.
This is the month that i get told by my parents to take extra precautions and where the burning of incense papers at the start of the month begins.
We get told not to step on any burnt incense paper by the roadside, not to come back home after 12, not to turn if we hear our names being called at night and etcetera. It is actually the seventh of every month in the chinese calendar where the ghosts from the nether world are said to be having a "holiday" to the mortal world for a month. During this month, there would be operas held everywhere where people would be attending. One "rule" would be that the first row of seats have to be left empty, supposedly left for them to seat.
This month is actually just another month in the year for me, but i feel that as the years move on, this festival would be gradually forgotten.
My family might not celebrate Hungry Ghost Festival religiously but there are some taboos that we do observe during the month. For example, both my sister and I are warned not to step on any joss sticks or speak foul words that might offend the spirits from hell.
For a few years before I went to NTU and became too busy, I was curious and accompanied my dad as he burnt and make offerings and burnt paper monies to appease the hungry spirits. It was pretty surreal as I watch sparks flying out of the burnt paper.
In retrospect, I do not think the beliefs and ceremonies inherent in this festival still hold any relevance to the youths of my generations anymore except for some very basic taboos.
You've been warned:
Don't ever step on joss sticks or joss paper.
Don't eat the offerings to the dead (no matter how hungry you are).
Don't walk the streets alone after dark.
Don't seat on the first row of Getais.
And the list goes on...
Hungry ghost festival is a festival of superstitions, in my perception. While I do respect the religious take on this, I think the festival has been blown out of proportion a little. If you pay attention to some shops that sells incense paper etc. you'll notice that they create paper forms of everything we have in the current world, Some examples are RL polo tees, iPads etc.
It is believed that by burning these pieces of cardboards the dead receives the real one in their dimension. I believe that this is an excuse to earn more money and pollute more air.
So if it was up to me, I'll say, stop focusing so much on the dead and look out for the living more!
While it is generally a time where people watch their backs in anticipation of an unknown entity lurking behind them, think of the Hungry Ghost Festival as a time where the crowd is just bigger, albeit a combination of biological and supernatural.
Whatever you do, don't do stupid things. Kicking or taking away the offerings is a definite no-no. If you see a pile of ashes, sidestep it and avoid it, just like you would not like people trampling on your stuff, the dead doesn't too
It is often based on a principle of self-respect. Though I'm a Christian, I believe that the dead are indeed around us and they have feelings too. Just like you don't like the local bully, they would not appreciate being made a mockery of.
Meanwhile, do take the chance to explore the rich heritage. At the local getai, traditional highlights and folk songs passed down the generations are a must see as they represent a fragment of the olden days. Hence, stay wise, stay safe and appreciate the sights and sounds
It is a traditional Chinese festival that not all of us believe in , I would suppose.
I'm one of those superstitious ones whom truly believes in the idea of spirits and ghosts, though their presence are not wholly supported for with concrete evidence.
The Hungry Ghost Festival does not simply revolve around the whole idea of spirits loitering our streets, bewaring of our fellow "brothers" that we might so unwittingly offend.
It is a rich culture that is losing it's recognition and support from its people, especially from our younger generation that is becoming increasingly out of touch with the Chinese tradition as the English education have eroded the importance and essence of such traditions.
People celebrate the festive season by incessantly burning incense paper to pay their respects to the dead, and stage up Getais to perform for the spirits as well. The Getais - the singers, songs, dances, costumes all enhances the mood, and liven up the atmosphere as massive numbers gather in a huge crowd to enjoy such performances put up.
As much as some might not believe in the festival, respects for the dead should be given and we are obliged to follow unwritten rules during the period - it's only safe to be wary. We can all join in the celebrations by watching getais, or sharing creepy ghost stories with each other.
Oh, I'm scared.
While it sounds really scary to hear that ALL the spirits from Hades are released to roam the earth for a good 30 days, *gulps*, what really interests me the most, would definitely have to be the ge-tais. I find this aspect of the festival really intriguing.
I do not follow a religion that believes in the Hungry Ghost Festival, but yet there are certain cultures and ways of life that have been instilled in me since young. So, during this period of time, besides watching where I walk and to becareful to not step on offerings, I pretty much lead a normal lifestyle just like any other day. While this sounds really dark, I think the ge-tais lightens up this dark festival a little with their bright costumes and loud dances. It's really a Singaporean Chinese thing because I have yet to see this in other Asian countries. I'm guessing Malaysia might have ge-tais too.
Of course, for the superstitious parents, they do impose curfews and certain rules during this period of time, just to ensure that the reckless teens of theirs can come home in one piece.
It's that time of the year again when you shouldn't turn back at night when you hear your name being called, when you should swim only before the sky turns dark, when you should...well the list goes on.
The only thing I like about this time of the year is that I get to sit around and tell ghost stories to scare my friends in 'celebration' of this festival. The worst thing is that the air quality starts to deteriorate.
I still don't really see why it's called a festival though, since I wouldn't call the rituals believers conduct during this period 'celebrations'. Anyone care to enlighten?
You'll know the seventh month is here when you see people at your void deck burning 'papers'. It is also a time in the year when there is a greatest amount of air pollution. Although I don't have a practice of 'celebrating' the hungry ghost festival, I still kind of believe in it and I respect 'them'.
Coming from a very traditional family, my parents would always remind me not to step on the incensed paper or any of the ashes. And if I do, I'll have to say sorry. After reading stories about the hungry ghost festival, I actually believe in it and thus I'll try to be very careful during that period of the year. I mean it is better to be safe than sorry, you'll never know!
I wouldn't say that I don't like the hungry ghost festival. I think it is a special occasion and it is a belief for some, so we should respect it.