Are you afraid of the ghost month?

By Kendrick Chua 27 August, 2017

Chinese New Year used to be the only Chinese festival that the Filipinos are aware of. Now, the Ghost Month is equally gaining popularity—or notoriety, depending how you look at it.

What is the Ghost Month, anyway? And why does it strike so much fear among the Chinese (and now even with Filipinos!)?  

For starters, the Ghost Festival, as it is more correctly called, has nothing to do with the Western Halloween or All Saint’s Day. This is the Chinese version of that. This is the time of the Festival of the Hungry Ghost, which started last, August 22, and ends in September 19. It changes from year to year depending on the lunar calendar with the fifteenth day (September 5) of the seventh month regarded as the Ghost Day.

Origin of the Ghost Festival

There is a slight variation between the Taoist and Buddhist in explaining its origin and its significance. In Taoism, every seventh lunar month is the time the gates of hell are open for the ghost and spirits to cross to the land of the living to look for food. That is because these hungry ghosts are condemned to eternal hell in a perpetual state of hunger. So naturally, these ghosts are craving for anything to eat once they are temporarily set free.

The Buddhism stays true to the virtue of filial piety. This version is all about saving the ancestor’s soul from purgatory by offering food. Its origin is about a Buddhist monk named Mu Lian who tried to save his mother’s soul in purgatory by offering her rice to eat. Instead Mu Lian was told to offer prayers for her mother instead to alleviate her sufferings.

Superstitions are aplenty when it comes to things that people must avoid. Here are 10 of them:

Avoid swimming.

As much as possible, avoid the swimming specifically beaches during this period. It is believed that spirits who previously drowned would try to do the same to the living for a chance in rebirth.

Avoid moving into new homes or offices.

It is considered inauspicious to move into a new home or office during this time.  Same goes for buying new properties. New places are magnet for wandering ghosts.  They might hide inside so they can avoid going back to their realm.

Avoid travelling.

As much as possible, refrain from driving long-distance. If inevitable, be extra cautious. There may be wandering ghosts who are looking for victims so they can be reincarnated. The Luneta hostage crisis eight years ago, also fell during the ghost period. Former DTI Secretary Jesse Robredo’s plane crashed during the ghost period. Coincidence?

Avoid hanging cloths outside to dry.

Hanging clothes outside your house is tantamount to an invitation for wandering ghost to well, put them on. Then as you bring these clothes back, you unwittingly bring them along.

Avoid taking selfies or photos.

Once again, because of the rampant presence of spirits, you might just inevitably capture one posing beside you. That’s one scary photobomber.

Avoid picking money on the streets.

It is considered a bad luck to pick up money lying on the streets. They might already belong to a ghost, and taking it is tantamount to stealing from him or her. Remember, hungry ghosts are also vengeful. It is also a means for some mischievous ghosts to possess the human who touches it.

Avoid wearing red or black, and heels.

Red or black clothing are attractive to ghosts. Apparently, they also have a strong sense of fashion; and you wouldn’t want to make yourself enticing for possession. Ladies are also discouraged from wearing high heels. The gap between the soles and the ground leaves enough space from them to possess you thorough the feet.

Avoid staying out late at night.

Ghost month or not, you shouldn’t be staying out late at night anyway. Doing so makes you vulnerable to possession, and the ghosts are more potent at this time. Plus, it is said not to whistle. Whistling attracts spirits as well, which could bring bad fortune for some time.

Avoid turning around when someone calls you or pats your shoulder.

This superstition stems from the Chinese belief that we all have protective flames on each of our shoulders. When you turn around after someone pats you on the shoulder, you potentially snuff out one of your protective flames, making you vulnerable to the hungry ghosts. Likewise, it is advisable not to do the same to others as well.

Avoid weddings.

This is perhaps the most avoided activity during the ghost month. So much so that Chinese newspapers are thin because of the lack of wedding announcements. Weddings on ghost month are destined to end up in failure. At least that’s how the belief is. This is cause by bitter ghosts who put curses on the couples and wish them to separate.


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Last modified on Sunday, 27 August 2017 21:27

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  • Qing Ming, Ghost Month and other important dates that Chinoys also commemorate

    A few years ago, my editor from another media outfit asked me a naive but weird question of how do Chinese-Filipinos celebrate Christmas? It was an innocent query to be sure, but for someone who grew up with Noche Buena, participated in “Kris Kringle”/exchange gift/secret Santa, and experienced annual Christmas rushes, I politely answered that there’s really no difference with how my family celebrates the most wonderful time of the year.

    Like most people based in the Philippines, we observe regular and special non-working rest days by not going to school or having a day off from the office. However, in addition to the 10-plus national public holidays declared by Malacañang annually, Chinoys also celebrate special dates based on the ones being observed in Mainland China.

    Unlike most Philippine breaks where important personalities (Rizal and Bonifacio Days) or religion (Holy Week, Christmas, and Eid al-Fitr) are the reasons behind the days of observance, Chinese holidays commemorate either nature (Spring, and mid-Autumn festivals) or a group of people (Women’s, Youth, Children’s, and Teacher’s Days).

    Also, unlike in the Philippines where a holiday lasts or is celebrated for a day or two, Chinese important dates like the Lunar New Year and QingMing (清明節)/Tomb-sweeping (掃墳節) festival last for more or less an entire week. Though the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it is known in Mainland China and other countries with large Chinese populations, is the most important, it is not the holiday, festival, or occasion that Chinoys celebrate on a yearly basis.

    Chinese (Lunar) New Year

    Easily the most important and famous holiday for Chinoys and Chinese people all over the world as it is a time for families to reunite, come together around the dining table for a Spring Festival feast, and make wishes for a prosperous and blessed new year. The specific date is based on the lunar calendar; enabling Chinese New Year to be celebrated as early as late January to a late as the second week of February.

    Filipino friends or officemates would instantly ask for boxes for Tikoy (粘糕), the glutinous rice-based round cake that symbolizes “raising oneself taller/higher in the coming year”. Common foods found on Chinoy tables also include fish for prosperity and good fortune, noodles for long life, and rice for unity.

    Qing Ming (清明節)/Tomb-sweeping (掃墳節) festival

    QingMing (pure and bright), Tomb-sweeping or “saw bo” in Hokkien is similar to the Roman Catholic’s All Souls’ day where family members go to cemeteries, temples, or other final resting places of their ancestors to clean and sweep their graves, give offerings, burn incense, and other practices. Personally, I haven’t been to our ancestral place in Xiamen or participated in the actual tomb-sweeping ritual, only through the stories and words from my dad.

    Mid-Autumn Festival

    As kids, we didn’t know the term Mid-Autumn Festival but know of two items associated with this holiday: playing Pua Tiong Chiu (the Chinese dice game) and eating mooncakes. The former is a six-die game where the objective to get all six dice to roll the face with four dots (狀元, Zhuàng Yuán/chuang yen) and win the top prize. 

    The latter is memorable because of the legend of Chinese residents using the mooncake as a means of communication during the Imperial times. The Mid-Autumn or Mooncake festival is celebrated every 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar Calendar (October 4, 2017).

    Pua Tiong Chiu's main objective to to get the Zhuàng Yuán or top prize.
    Pua Tiong Chiu's main objective to to get the Zhuàng Yuán or top prize. (Graphics by Joeby Gabriel/ChinoyTV)

    Ghost Month

    The Ghost Month isn’t really an observed holiday, rather a 30-day observance of the Chinese with regards to the seventh month of the Lunar calendar. A period where my parents and older Chinoys would say that the dead, through their spirits or ghosts, are said to be out from the underworld and visiting the living. Aside from a more cautious approach (avoiding vacations, not going out unless you really have to, etc.), expect to see little to no new businesses open or major investments placed, even in the stock market, during the Ghost Month (August 22 - September 19, 2017)

    Death anniversaries of ancestors

    Aside from QingMing and All Souls’ Day, Chinoys also commemorate the death anniversaries of their loved ones by going back to their ancestral houses (or houses where they grew up), prepare a spread consisting of bowls of rice, fish, chicken (undressed or with the head and feet still attached), pork, and noodles for offering, lighting incense, and rolling and burning “gold” paper (金紙).

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