These are the Unusual Traditions of the Hungry Ghost Festival

Matthew Kang is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Matthew Kang is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The Ghost Festival: A Taoist and Buddhist festival with Cultural Richness and Taboos

On the 15th night of the seventh lunar month, Taoists and Buddhists hold a festival in China called the Hungry Ghost Festival. It goes by several names, such as the Ullambana Festival of Buddhism, the Ghost Festival and the Mid-July Festival. The seventh month of the Chinese calendar is also called Ghost Month. The story goes that on the 15th night of Ghost Month the gates to heaven and hell are left open, allowing ghosts and dead people into the world to seek out delicious meals. Back in the day, people lit lanterns and placed them on the road, in the river, and anywhere else to provide light for the ghosts as they wandered. Some left shoes out for the ghosts to use, and others prayed to ease any pain that their parents may be feeling on the other side.

Cultural Richness

The festivals held by those in the Taoist community are grand, ritualistic and spiritual. The temples are filled with people for the Ghost Festival, all praying for good fortune, blessings and to remove evil from the ghosts. Buddhists use vessels (bana) full of food that are held upside down (ullam) to remove suffering from those of the deceased in purgatory. Those who aren’t involved in these grand rituals have their own festivities to hold, which is essentially the same in terms of theme and traditions.

Ordinary people purchase lotus-shaped paper lanterns with a candle on the bottom to float down the river. The festivals revolve around sacrificing food to the dead, forgiving one’s sins and easing the suffering of others. In addition, services are held to worship ancestor, such as chanting and operas.


There are some thing that are considered taboo during the Ghost Month. It is said that no one should get married, buy a new house or move into a new house, hang their clothes up at night, open an umbrella indoors, swim at night, camp at night, use mirrors at night, light white candles while peeling apples in the mirror, have surgery, stick chopsticks in their rice, travel or whistle on quiet streets at night.

Ghost Month began August 14, 2015 and will come to an end September 12, 2015. The Chinese Ghost Festival will be held on August 28 this year.


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