11 Taboos during the Hungry Ghost Festival

chinese opera singers in traditional blue and white outfits

Chinese opera viaPixabay

 How to avoid a haunting on the Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival, Zhong Yuan Jie ( 中元节), falls on the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and is often compared to Chinese Halloween. (Read more about the Hungry Ghost Festival HERE). On this night, it's said that spirits and ghosts are allowed to return to the realm of the living. Not all of these ghosts are friendly. Hungry ghosts, the spirits of those who did not have a proper funeral or who have been forgotten, return to the earth seeking food and entertainment to satisfy their insatiable cravings. Some of these spirits are tricksters, and some are believed to be downright malicious! People who keep the Hungry Ghost Festival traditionally follow a number of taboos to protect themselves from angering these ghosts. Here's what you should NOT do tonight:

  1. Stay away from pools, lakes, and ponds This tradition says that ghosts try to take advantage of any opportunity to be reincarnated, but that is a sort of "waiting list" to come back to Earth. Someone swimming, especially alone or at night, is too good of a target for them to move things up a bit.
  2. Don't whistle or make loud noises at night Stay relatively quiet to avoid attracting any sort of ghostly attention.
  3. Stay home after the sun goes down It's recommended not to stay out too long after dark. Instead, go home and join in the feast with your family!
  4. Do not sit in the front row at the Chinese opera It's a tradition to watch Chinese opera performances during the Hungry Ghost Festival, but you'll notice that the front row of seats will always be left empty. These seats are reserved for ghostly visitors who might stop by to watch the performance.
  5. Don't turn your head to look over your shoulder If you feel someone tap you on the shoulder, don't look back! Who knows what you might see?
  6. Don't make jokes about ghosts The ghosts who come back especially do not like to be mocked!
  7. Don't step on or over an offering or alter, and don't kick the ashes How would you like it if somebody trampled all over your feast?
  8. Don't pick up any strange coins or money you might come across It could be a trap! The ghosts will try all sorts of tricks to get into your home.
  9. Do not curse  The ghosts could be offended.
  10. Don't wear red or black clothing  Apparently, these are ghostly colors. It's said that ghosts might mistake people wearing red or black for one of their own! It's best to avoid those colors on Ghost Night.
  11. Don't be afraid!  You don't have to really believe in ghosts to celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival. After all, it's really a time for family and remembrance. Chinese families often have a big feast and reflect on their ancestors and loved ones. Most of all, have fun.