Seeing the Hungry Ghosts Festival in a different light

✦ No, don't call the Ghostbusters! It's just the Hungry Ghosts Festival!

Mark this date - August 12, 2022. That's when the Chinese celebrate this most unusual festival - the Hungry Ghosts Festival!

If you've never heard of it, you may be intrigued by what exactly it is. The Mexicans have their famous Día de Muertos with their trademark colourful skulls. And the Chinese have their Hungry Ghosts Festival.

It's one of the most important traditional festivals celebrated in China and by Chinese all over Asia. You may know it by its Chinese name, the Zhongyuan (Chinese: 中原) Festival. It falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and this year, it's on August 12th in 2022. The entire month itself really lasts from July 29th to August 26th.

Food offerings to the spirits during the Hungry Ghosts Festival
Food offerings to the spirits during the Hungry Ghosts Festival

During this period, the spirits roam the realm of the living and people prepare rituals and food offerings to honour their ancestors and appease these spirits that are roaming around.

If you're squeamish and perhaps have seen one too many horror movies, rest assured. This is nothing to be terrified of. Perhaps after reading this you'll see this festival in a very different light.

Spirits roaming free

The Chinese believe that during this month, the gates of the underworld open up and the spirits come out to play. They are free to roam, 'enjoy' themselves, perhaps visit the people they love and miss, or go to places they used to frequent. By the end of the month, the spirits return again to the underworld.

This is not a story to scare adults, much less little children, and it's not so important if you believe in the underworld or not. Just the idea of the souls of people who have passed on and can actually return, albeit briefly, from wherever they are for a visit, is actually rather moving if you think about it. And if these are simply our ancestors swinging by for a visit, then there's really nothing to fear now, is there?

Horror movies are made to scare and entertain and if they didn't do their job you'd vote them down on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

The Hungry Ghosts Festival is a time for the living to pay respects to their ancestors, to remember fondly loved ones who have passed on, and to remember to be kind to wandering spirits who may not have anyone to mourn them or miss them. It is also a sobering reminder that we who are living, are also ephemeral beings.

Right now we can enjoy a full life and partake in all the joys that life bestows on us. Why not share some of what we have with the spirits?

How to celebrate

1. Speak to those who have passed on

No no, we're not talking about dusting off that ouija board you have in the closet. Many of us may have photographs of family members and loved ones who have passed on in our living spaces. Remembering loved ones who have gone is not always, or only, about grief. It's also about celebrating who they were and what they have taught us during the precious time we've shared with them.

This is a time to fondly remember them, perhaps think about a message you'd want to tell them, and come up with your own little prayer to these loved ones, and trust that from wherever they are, they are also sending us their blessings.

2. Share the good food

What's a celebration without good food? The Chinese are famous for their culinary delights, and you can be sure that there isn't a single Chinese festival that doesn't involve food of some kind! And the important thing about good food is that when it is shared, it tastes even better!

The Chinese prepare food offerings to the spirits three times a day. The Chinese believe their ancestors will visit their homes and partake of the meals offered to them. You may have seen these offerings being set up. Three bowls of rice with three accompanying sets of chopsticks and why not include three cups of wine too to finish off the meal? There is no limit to what yo