Hungry Ghost Festival: All you need to know and heed about the 7th-month celebrations

The Hungry Ghost Festival is here. What are some of the dos and don'ts for the month?
The Hungry Ghost Festival is here. What are some of the dos and don'ts for the month? PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Smoke fills the evening skies and the sounds from the getai stage reverberate around the neighbourhood - it's that time of year again for the Hungry Ghost Festival.

For those who are less acquainted with the festival, here are a few pointers.

When is the festival

Hungry Ghost Festival takes place on the seventh month of the Lunar calendar.

This year's edition starts Aug 22 and concludes Sept 19.

A festival for ghosts

It is believed that the gates of the netherworld are opened during this time for spirits to roam the living world.

These spirits and ghosts seek food and offerings for the month.

Due to their nature of being trapped between the living and spiritual realms, they are unable to eat or drink, which results in them being perennially hungry.


The paper model of a bungalow at Sentosa Cove  comes complete with a jet ski, a boat and even domestic help. These paper models are burnt as offerings for the dead during the Hungry Ghost Festival. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER 

Who observes it and how

The festival is mostly observed by Chinese in Singapore.

Adherents burn incense and paper effigies of cars, mobile phones and clothing for their deceased ancestors, as well as lay out food for the ghosts.

Getai, which means "song stage" in Chinese, consists of traditional opera and puppet performances meant for both the dead and the living.

But it has evolved to include more boisterous, and even risque, performances involving singers and entertainers.

Things to watch out for

In a month where ghouls are supposedly running freely, one has to take careful heed not to inadvertently cross paths with or anger them. Those who observe the festival believe in the following precautions:


Moving houses is not recommended during Hungry Ghost Festival, regardless of the method. PHOTO: NANYANG SIANG PAU 

1. Home improvements on hold

Some people believe that relocating or sprucing up your home or office is ill-advised during this time as it risks incurring the ire of any residing spirits.

If, however, you need to move urgently, it may not be an entirely bad thing.

A good discount might be negotiated as superstitious buyers shun the property market during the period.


The front row of the seats is left empty during getai performances. PHOTO: ST FILE

2. Reserved front row seats

While you might fancy a closer look at the singers belting out Hokkien favourites in their flamboyant costumes, unfortunately the front row "Gold Class" seats have been reserved.

For whom you ask? Our departed friends from purgatory, of course.


The Hungry Ghost Festival is not the time to channel your inner Joseph Schooling. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER 

3. Avoid swimming pools

Superstition goes that spirits lurk around pools waiting for a chance to drown unsuspecting swimmers, in order to get a chance at reincarnation.

Let's not tell our SEA Games swimmers about this, okay?


Wish to snub out that insect? Think again during Hungry Ghost Festival. PHOTO: ST FILE

4. Be kind to insects

Creepy-crawlies might scare some of us more than spirits do, but how about the two of them in one body?

Refrain from killing insects during this time as it might just be your great-granduncle.


Sorry Liverpool fans, but red is not the recommended colour to wear during the festival. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

5. Red alert on outfits

Like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal fans, ghosts are apparently attracted to red.

These spirits are more likely to possess people dressed in red, according to believers.