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Hungry Ghost Festival
     
 


Halloween? Chungyuan Festival ( 中元节/ Ghost Festival)


Halloween? Pah! We have a month of ghosts in China!: Chungyuan Festival (中元节 / zhōngyuánjié /Pron: "jong yuan jee" / Ghost Festival)

Every year, during the seventh month of the Chinese Calendar, it is believed that the Gates of Hell will be opened and all residents (well, not all, just the well-behaved ones) will be set to roam freely on Earth for a month. In this month, many spirits roamed the world in search of their past memories to fulfill their unforgotten attachments. As such, these are called the “hungry ghosts” and the festival is also called the Hungry Ghost Festival.

The Hungry Ghosts festival occurs on the 15th night of the 7th Lunar month which falls on the 3rd September this year. (Some people in Southern of China make it on 14th night of the 7th Lunar month. ) This festival is different from the more well-known Qing Ming Festival (清明节), or the tomb-sweeping day which is now an official holiday in China and is predominantly an ancestor worshiping day. The Ghost Festival on the other hand is for the ancestors to return the visit and is a festival of elaborate rituals of joss sticks and paper money, food offerings, and opera shows for the deceased.

The festival is also influenced by Buddhist teachings introduced into China. In the Buddhist’s Ullambana Sutra, Mahamaudgalyayana, one of the chief disciples of the Buddha and supposedly well-known for his psychic powers, searched for his deceased mother during a meditation session. He found his mother reborn in the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts due to her greedy past. The hungry ghosts depicted in Buddhist’s literature are beings in another world, born with narrow throats and huge stomachs. They are constantly hungry but are not able to filled their stomach as they have difficulties swallowing the food. Seeking Buddha’s advice, he eased his mother’s suffering and eventual rebirth into a human form by performing various rituals of merits creation and offerings. This is the famous “Mahamaudgalyayana Saving His Mother” (目莲救母) storyline which is often performed in Chinese opera. In the Chinese context, more emphasis is placed on offerings to the ancestors than to the monks, as in the original Ullambana practice in Buddhism.

During the period of the festival, people will avoid undertaking important activities such as weddings, house moving and starting businesses. It is notable that property transactions and entertainment activities in Chinese cities are reduced during this period.

There are similar festivals throughout the world world; These include the El Día de los Muertos Festival in Mexico, the Chugen and O-Bon Festivals in Japan as well as the Vu Lan Festival in Vietnam. For better or worse people today are frequently in awe towards the "underworld" and various superstitious ideas its based on; of course, like many superstitious ideas - there is a germ of rationality to it: for the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival in particular, it is a yearly reinforcement and reminder of one’s filial responsibility towards the mother and ancestors of the family.



 
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