Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival is here again. Each year, for the entire 7th Lunar month, the traditional Chinese observe this month as the month dedicated to the wandering souls and the ancestors who have passed on. It is interesting to find out how this term "Hungry Ghost Festival" came about, but certainly, it tickles the mind.

This year, 25 Jul 2006 marks as the first day of the 7th Lunar Month. It is believed by the ancient Chinese that on this day, the ghosts could come up from the "below". And it is also believed that those who died young or in unusual circumstances could become wandering souls. Unless their relatives have arranged for the proper conducting of ritual to raise them up from such status, they would remain wandering all the time. And during this month, the traditional Chinese would offer their departed ancestors or relatives as well as the wandering souls with food and joss-papers (money for the nether world).

It used to be smoky days and nights as each Chinese dialect group offer its prayers on different days and in different ways. And residents of a neighbourhood might gather together to offer prayers to the wandering souls. It was very much a community event, but in modern Singapore, this is getting lesser.

Still, in Chinatown as in any HDB estate and even in shopping centres (if you look close enough) and offices, there could be make-shift altars for the residents (be they living or working) to offer their prayers. In the HDB estates, one could see the elders leading their young - children and grandchildren in praying with a joss-stick. Tradition lives and continues in this way.

The Hungry Ghost Festival is also an important local economic activity in many local companies' business charts. Those selling traditional Chinese praying paraphernalia would be busy stocking to meet the demands. Those in the food and fruits market will also be busy as a wide array of foods are offered, from cooked dishes to fresh fruits to canned food and dried food. Neighbourhoods organised mass prayers, with each family taking back a basket packed with various food after the prayer. Bigger supermarkets are also getting into the play offering ready packed baskets of goodies.

This year, there are two 7th Lunar Month in the Chinese Calendar. This has many in confusion as to whether the Hungry Ghost Festival will be 2-months long, meaning that the ghosts would have an extended stay. The general trend of thought is that ghosts do not understand second month and so, they will return as scheduled. (^^) The second 7th month starts from 24 Aug 2006 and the last day 29th of 7th Lunar Month will be on 21 Sep 2006.