Hungry Ghost Festival – Halloween in China

As Halloween approaches here in the US,the question arises does China have a similar holiday and do they serve tea? The answer is a surprising yes as it turns out. The Hungry Ghost Festival, or Zhong Yuan Ji, is quite similar to the US Halloween, but there are also some big differences.

Hungry Ghost Festival Origins

All Saints Day

All Saints Day from which we get Halloween

The Hungary Ghost Festival originates from the Buddhist and Taoist beliefs that the gates to the afterlife open on the first day of 7th month of the Lunar calendar, which usually falls in August but sometimes in July. While the basis of the tradition is in religion, many of the festivals, food, and decorations are based in Chinese folk tradition. This is very similar to Halloween, in that Halloween originated from Celtic folk tradition and was merged by the Catholic church into All Saints Day (a day to honor the dead and atone them of their sins), with the folk traditions of dressing up as a ghost and offering food to visiting spirits still playing a large role in the celebration.

Hungry Ghost Festival Traditions

Joss Paper Money

Burning Joss Paper Money ( CC BY-SA 3.0 by Vmenkov)

There are special traditions marked on the 1st day, the 15th day and the last day of the hungry ghost month. On the 1st day, joss paper is burnt outside of businesses and homes as a way to give the ghosts the money they need during the month on Earth. Joss paper acts as a representation of real money and little piles of ashes can be found all over the streets and at temples during this time. The 15th day of the month is marked as the holiday to feed the ghosts and to honor your deceased family members through a small shrine of pictures in the home, burning of incense near the pictures, and an elaborate meal with empty seats at the table left for the ancestors to sit in on the feast. Food may also be burned during this day so that the ghosts may take it with them into the afterlife. Tea is also burned so that the ghosts have their favorite beverage in the afterlife. The last day of the month is marked through the lighting of paper lanterns, the burning of more food, joss paper, and clothing so that the ghosts may have them in their afterlife, and the family pictures are returned to the shelves and walls. Unlike the Chinese holiday of Qing-Ming in the spring, this festival is less about honoring your ancestors and more about keeping those pesky ghosts from causing too much trouble. Food, beverages (tea especially), and other gifts are left out to feed and entertain the ghosts. Public concerts are held to entertain both the living and the dead and it is quite common to stumble over buckets and baskets of food placed on door steps, at bases of trees and just out on the sidewalk from the beginning of the month till the end of the month. So while we pass out candy to our little ghosts, it is nice to remember how similar human beliefs can be even if they are celebrated in different ways.

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