Community, Events

How the Chinese Ghost Festival is celebrated around the world

If you’re scrolling down your feed right now, chances are that social media is telling you to be very careful with your luck this month. 

But why should you be careful?

Well, it’s better to be safe than sorry: The infamous Ghost Month, which takes place on the seventh month of the lunar calendar (i.e. July 29 to August 26 this year), has finally arrived! This inauspicious period is believed to be unlucky because, during the first day of the Ghost Month, the gates of the underworld open, allowing the spirits of the dead to wander the world of the living. The Hungry Ghost Festival or the Zhongyuan Festival (中元节), in particular, falls on the fifteenth day of the Ghost Month, marking the point in which the wandering spirits begin to become restless and hungry. Legend dictates that it is during this special day that one must offer food and incense to appease their anger and pay respects.

Here in the Philippines, traditions related to the Ghost Month have mostly been imported into the country by the Chinoy community, mostly retaining their Chinese roots. But did you know that other countries have adopted their own versions of the event as well? Check out how the rest of the world celebrates Ghost Month here: 


Singapore and Malaysia (Getai)

Although Singapore and Malaysia mostly follow similar traditions as to how we celebrate Ghost Month, one special practice that they possess is getai (歌台), literally meaning “song stage” in Chinese. Like what its name implies, getai is a live performance that keeps wandering spirits entertained — in fact, the first row of seats in every getai is reserved especially for them! 


Japan (Obon)

With a history of over 500 years, this popular Japanese celebration also finds its origins in China’s Hungry Ghost Festival. However, unlike the latter, Obon lasts for a period of three days and includes a traditional folk dance called bon odori to welcome the spirits of the dead. The festival has also evolved into a family reunion event, making it an ideal time for friends and loved ones to visit their hometowns and ancestral shrines. 

Although nationally recognized as unofficial holidays, the dates in which Obon is set depends on the region of the country. The festival is hosted on July 15 in the Kanto region, August 15 in the Kansai region, and follows the Chinese tradition of setting the event on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month in Okinawa and the Amami Islands. 


Korea (Baekjung)

This folk festival is as much an agricultural one as it is a religious one, falling still on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month. Since this time is also considered to be a brief period of rest after one of the busiest farming seasons of the year, Baekjung is usually spent leisurely, with plenty of food, drinks, and games. 

On a more religious note, Baekjung is not only the perfect time for people to express their gratitude to the gods of agriculture, but it is also a Buddhist holiday that involves holding services to comfort the suffering spirits in hell and providing offerings to the souls of one’s ancestors. 


Indonesia (Chit Gwee Pua)

Literally translating to “the midway point of the seventh month,” Chit Gwee Pua is mostly celebrated by the residents of Java Island. During this time, people gather around temples and bring spirits who have unluckily met their end offerings. They then use the offerings as gifts for the poor, giving birth to the festival’s other name Sembahyang Rebutan (transl. “the scrambling prayer”). 


Vietnam (Tết Trung Nguyên)

In Vietnam, the Ghost Festival (Tết Trung Nguyên) is a time that involves the pardoning of condemned souls released from hell, appeasing them with offerings of food. The event coincides with the Vu Lan Festival, the name of which is derived from the Vietnamese transliteration of the Buddhist sutra Ullambana. Also known as the Amnesty of the Unquiet Spirits, it is the second-largest festival held in Vietnam after the Lunar New Year. 

Although both celebrations are widely known to honor the dead, the Vu Lan Festival has also been recognized as Parents’ Day. Those with living parents would wear a red rose while those without would wear a white rose and pray for the deceased. 


Curious about how Chinoys celebrate the Ghost Festival? Check out our article here!


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