We’re in the middle of August now but we’re only in the middle of the seventh month in the Lunar calendar, which marks the Hungry Ghost Festival.
No other “festival” is fraught with fear as is the Hungry Ghost Festival for I remember it as the period when all hell breaks loose.
Growing up under my grandmother’s care, I vividly recall all the taboos associated with this Chinese Halloween:
i) Be home before dark or before 7.00 pm to avoid clashing with the “hungry ghosts”. Wash your face, hands and feet before you go to bed, which is actually a daily practice to avoid nightmares.
However, the “hungry ghosts” who wander the earth at this time need to be entertained thus you’ll see performing troupes of Chinese opera set up in various Chinese villages or towns. These days, the artistic Chinese opera is replaced by garish, scantily clad ladies belting / howling out the latest hits ALL night long.
Funnily enough, I recall accompanying my grandmother to watch the Chinese opera late at night on a few occasions although we were supposed to remain indoors! (Of course, my memories could be jumbled up but I only recall the Chinese opera performing during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)
ii) No swimming allowed for my grandmother had this fear of water after a @#$%^& fortune teller told her that my uncle would drown from swimming. In fact, all my uncles were prohibited from all bodies of water and swimming lessons.
Interestingly, the ones she worried about the most have all outlived her and save for one, enjoy deep-sea diving and swimming.
iii) No long distance travel because the “hungry ghosts” may follow you home. Hmm…the local ones won’t?
iv) No moving house. I can’t remember why. Guess it’s the same as above.
v) Lots and lots of food. The food offerings to the gods were as lavish as those for Chinese New Year so I definitely remember the fun part of having steamed buns and other goodies for recess or tea.
For a while, my father rejected partaking of these food offerings, which I think, hurt my grandmother’s feelings a bit as food=love to her. Later, my father accepted them out of love and respect for my grandmother.
vi) Lots of burnt offerings. As a child, I joined in quite a number of Taoist rituals, usually the burning of joss paper because you get to handle colourful paper, do origami (of sorts) and of course, throw them into a fire.
My Christian father took it all in stride because I never joined in the prayers – somehow, I knew that I should refrain from doing it.
Plus, my grandmother never insisted for me to join in and she would quietly say that I’m a Christian to her friends whenever I stood by watching while she kneeled and offered joss sticks to the gods or to the heavens.
I have the BEST grandmother and I am so thankful to her for the cultural legacy she has left me