Do you know what happened on the 19th?
Yes, the gates opened.
Everyone was out, eating in places like they’ve not eaten for 11 months.
The rush is so crazy that right on the midnight of the 19th, souls were everywhere having their meals.
But that was June. In August, another gate would be opened, and it’d be a much more peaceful opening.
Yes, we’re talking about the Hungry Ghost Festival.
If you prefer to watch this topic because you’re a brave soul, here’s a video we’ve done (and please subscribe to our YouTube channel for more informative videos!):
When is Hungry Ghost Festival 2020?
The Gates of Hell will open on 19 August 2020, and this is when spirits can finally enter our realm and have their Bak Kut Teh in public without going to jail. The exact date for Hungry Ghost Festival is on 2 September 2020, though.
In 2020, there are 29 days in the Lunar July, so you’re a scaredy-cat, you’d have to impose your personal Stay-Home notice until 17 September 2020.
But here’s the thing: do you know that while it’s a month-long event, the official festival, which by the way isn’t a public holiday, is only one day?
That’s on the 15th of the Lunar calendar, which falls on the 2nd of September this year
So…what’s going to happen on the 2 September?
What is the Hungry Ghost Festival 2020?
Now, despite the name, it’s not about hungry spirits roaming the streets to look for food.
If not, every month is Hungry Ghost Month. Geddit?
On the first day of July, the Gates of Hell open, and it’s known as Hungry Ghost Festival because some spirits might not have descendants to make offerings to them, so they’ll go hungry when they’re here.
But the month is also for spirits to do many other things, like observing the living, visiting their descendants or maybe their descendants of their sons or merely just a visit for Singapoliday.
But you’ve got to wonder: how did it get started?
Origins of Hungry Ghost Festival
Every festival has an origin, and it’s the same here.
But this is a little different because there are two origin stories to this.
The first is the story of Mu Lian, who’s not related to any new MP in Singapore. Mu Lian is a disciple of Buddha, and his vegetarian mother accidentally consumed meat and was condemned to hell for denying that act.
So Mu Lian went to find her in the netherworld and saw her amongst hungry ghosts who were looking for food.
Mu Lian gave food to his mother but it was grabbed by the other ghosts.
Eventually, Buddha helped him by teaching him how to make offerings of food and prayers, and from then on, Mu Lian’s mother was no longer a hungry ghost.
The other is a legend from the Tang Dynasty, an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 618 to 907.
During that time, there was a famous fortune-teller called Li Liang Feng who has never got his predictions wrong.
The Dragon King of the Eastern Seas was angry at his claim and tried to discredit him, but was sentenced to death instead due to some plot twist.
In order to save his life, he went to Emperor Tang Taizong for help, but it failed and the Dragon King haunted the Emperor in his dreams.
To appease the Dragon King, the Emperor ordered all Buddhist and Taoists priests in his city to do offerings for the Dragon King, and the rest is history.
Now, you’d be wondering: wait…why isn’t there any mention of hungry ghosts roaming earth?
Despite what our grandparents have told us, it seems like the story of hungry ghosts roaming our world isn’t part of the origins of the festival.
But maybe as time goes by, different accounts of the origin changed, but one thing remains constant: people are still doing the same thing.
What People Do During Hungry Ghost Festival
For Singaporeans and Malaysians, people will make offerings on these three main days: the 1st, 15th and last day of the month.
In Singapore, people will burn the offerings in a burning bin and will buy food as offerings.
The whole idea is to ensure that the roaming spirits would have something to eat so they won’t go into your house and steal your rice that’s boiled and rinsed with water.
But you’d also have come across something very interesting if you’re a working adult.
What Businesses Do During Hungry Ghost Festival
Yes, it’s said that businesses do the same thing, too.
In fact, some people claim that if a business has started offering before, it’ll have to offer every year, if not the roaming spirits will Circuit Breaker your business.
This is why you sometimes also see ang mos in suits burning offerings because they might have joined a company that used to burn offerings, too.
And well, if you’re indeed an ang mo, then read on.
Taboos During Hungry Ghost Festival
There are many taboos during this month, but these are the usual ones you’d hear:
- Don’t swim
- Don’t whistle
- Don’t try new things
- Don’t hang your clothes outside to dry
- Don’t pick up anything from the ground
- Don’t kick on offerings
- Don’t turn your head when someone calls you
There are many more, and you can watch this video we’ve done for more info (and also subscribe to our YouTube channel for more informative and entertaining videos, please?):
Different in Other Parts of the World
If you’re not from Singapore or Malaysia, I don’t know why you’re here but anyways, if you’re here to check out what the traditions in Taiwan are, we thank you for making it so far but unfortunately, everything you’ve read has just been rendered useless.
You see, Singapore and Malaysia have very similar culture, so the Hungry Ghost Festival traditions are pretty similar. But in other countries, it can be a little different.
For example, in Taiwan, a lot of focus is on lamps and lanterns, while in Japan, people give gifts to their superiors and acquaintances on the 15th of the month.
Okay, I take back my words: it could be very different.
Why the 15th is So Important
According to many grandparents, the scariest day is the 15th of the month.
On the 15th day, it’s said that in the night, ghosts and evil spirits would get together, which explains why more people are burning offerings during this day to appease the ghosts.
It’s unknown if the COVID-19 rules apply to them, so it’d be best to avoid staying out late that day.
But that’s not all.
After fourteen days, the ghosts are now “hungrier” and therefore would be seeking for food and entertainment. The foods you see that are offered would be more sumptuous as well.
And just so you know, in 2020, the date falls on 2 September, and it’s a Wednesday. So no ladies’ night—oh, also cannot hor. Nevermind lah just go home early lah.
Everything About Getai
If you’re reading this in 2020, this might not apply to you because famous getai singers are now selling fish on Facebook
But if you’re reading this in 2015, then congratulations on knowing how to time travel, and here are some facts about getai.
Firstly, getai only exists in Singapore and Malaysia, and this year, while there aren’t any live ones, you can still watch some online. But do you know that getai started during the Japanese Occupation back in 1942?
That was when people watched indoor, not outdoor, performances as an outlet of escapism during the oppressive years. Slowly it evolved and now, it’s a colourful and bright event as a tribute to our “brothers and sisters” that have long since left this world.
What It’s Called
There’s no official name to this: you can call it the Hungry Ghost Month, the Seventh Month or even Ghost Month.
The official Visit Singapore website calls it the Hungry Ghost Festival lah, but if you want to sound smart, you can call it Zhongyuan Jie (中元节).
If you want to sound even smarter, call it Phase Two lah. See what happened after that.
In the meantime, if you haven’t done so, watch this video on the taboos during Hungry Ghost Month (and why haven’t you subscribed to our YouTube channel!?):