Hungry Ghost FestHungry Ghost Fest

Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore

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 30 Jul 2019  

In Singapore, the month of August brings with it a juxtaposition of festivities – one to commemorate the city-state’s independence, and the other, a far more sombre affair marking the return of the afterlife to Earth. We round up the traditions, taboos and things to avoid come August.

 

Hungry Ghost Fest

 

What is Hungry Ghost Festival?

Also known as zhong yuan jie in Mandarin, this month-long celebration on the Lunar Calendar is based on Buddhist and Taoist beliefs that the gates of hell open during the seventh Lunar month, allowing the spirits of ancestors – as well as the eternally Hell-doomed – to roam the earth for food and entertainment. These traditions aren’t just observed in Singapore; Buddhist and Taoist communities in Malaysia and Indonesia honour the dead in a similar way.

 

Hungry Ghost Fest

 

Sidewalk offerings 

To appease these ghosts, family members burn paper paraphernalia including jewellery, cars, homes and Hell money in giant metal bins located in private residential areas and housing estate. 
 

Hungry Ghost Fest


Likewise, food offerings – from fruits and rice to steamed cakes and roasted meats – are placed on sidewalks with joss sticks.

These festivities culminate in Ghost Day, which occurs on the 15th day of the Lunar month. Though Hungry Ghost Festival begins and ends on different dates every year, it generally starts in August. 

 

Hungry Ghost Fest

 

Getai for ghosts and humans

In the lead-up to the 15th day of the Lunar month, communities congregate to enjoy getai – Mandarin for ‘song stage’ – across Singapore. These public performances are a riot of colour, lights and thumping beats, complete with karaoke sessions and plenty of dazzling costumes.

Makeshift stages are assembled in large housing estates, particularly Ang Mo Kio, Joo Chiat and Chinatown, and rows of red plastic chairs are arranged for the public to partake in the festivities. Should you happen to pop by, you may notice the first row is conspicuously vacant. Traditionally, these seats are saved for visiting ghosts and ancestors, who would likely appreciate getting VIP treatment.

On the 30th and final day of Hungry Ghost Festival, more paper offerings are burnt in a bonfire – including Taai Si Wong, the leader of the Hungry Ghosts – to send the afterlife back home. 

 

Hungry Ghost Festival

 

Sticky superstitions

For the length of the festival, Chinese believers and non-believers alike err on the side of caution by abiding by superstition. Some things to avoid include holding weddings in August, buying property or closing business deals. It’s also best to avoid wearing black or red clothing.

And, should you happen to hear footsteps moving towards you or someone calling your name – especially late at night – keep calm and keep walking, but don’t even think about turning back!

Want more culture? Check out this guide to Hindu temples in Singapore, or consider spending a day exploring the colourful streets of Chinatown – the latter's only a five-minute ride by train from Marina Bay Sands. And our Book Direct offer means you're always guaranteed the lowest prices. 

 

 

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