The Hungry Ghost Festival - Zhong Yuan Jie - 中元节

Zhong Yuan Jie (中元节), the Hungry Ghost Festival, is often compared to Chinese Halloween. Falling on the fifteenth night of the seventh lunar month, it is believed that on this night the gates of the afterlife are opened for spirits and ghosts to return to the world of the living.

traditional Chinese opera performer in red with a mask

Chinese Opera via Pixabay

What is the Hungry Ghost Festival?

The Hungry Ghost Festival is quite similar to traditional Western beliefs regarding Halloween: that is, on "Ghost Night" (the 15th night of the 7th lunar month), the gates to the afterlife are opened, and ghosts are allowed to visit and wander the Earth.

Hungry ghosts, the spirits of those who were not given the proper funeral rites, are released to wander the earth seeking food and entertainment to sate their insatiable cravings. They feast greedily at shrines set up on curbside outside of peoples homes.

This Festival is also a time to remember loved ones and ancestors who have departed, as it's believed that their souls may come back to visit their families during this time.

Where is the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrated?

Originally a Chinese Taoist tradition, forms of the Hungry Ghost Festival have spread throughout Asia, and is an important festival for families of Chinese descent all around the world. In Bangkok, which has a large Chinese-Thai population, it's quite common to see small curbside shrines and offerings during Ghost Month.

What do you do on Ghost Night?

incense burning in front of a Chinese temple

incense via Pixabay

Ghost Night is a time to spend with families. Traditionally, families prepare a feast (often vegetarian), and remember their ancestors and loved ones who have died. If visited by a butterfly, cricket, or other rare or beautiful insect, it is believed that it is the spirit of a loved one who has come by to visit.

Not all ghosts are friendly, however, and an important question is 'what should you NOT do?'. There are a number of traditions that people follow on Ghost Night to protect themselves from tricky or vengeful spirits and ghosts. These traditional taboos are in place to protect people from the hungry ghosts who wander the earth

SEE MORE: 11 Taboos During the Hungry Ghost Festival

Ghost money for the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival

The most famous tradition is to burn "joss paper", paper money depicting the Jade Emperor and paper models of luxury goods to send to the ghosts as offerings. This is the currency of the afterlife, and dutiful families will send their ancestors all the best luxuries (including paper iPhones, watches, cars, and suits).

SEE MORE: Ghost Money: What is Joss Paper?

In 2017, the Hungry Ghost Festival falls on the 5th of September.

In 2018, it will fall on the 25th of August.