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Lillian Li

Hong Kong Death Festival

Hong Kong: Hungry Ghost Festival

October 31, 2019

If you happen to be in Hong Kong during the seventh lunar month, chances are you’ll come across the Yu Lan Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, a traditional Buddhist celebration that seeks to appease baleful spirits and welcome departed ancestors into the living world.

During the entirety of the seventh month of the lunar year, referred to as the “Ghost Month” in the lunar calendar, it is believed that the gates of hell open and restless spirits pour forth into the living world. Accompanying the eerie month is the Hungry Ghost Festival, which has been listed as part of China’s “intangible culture.” The haunted holiday has been facilitated by the Chiu Chow community in Hong Kong for more than 100 years, and although the festival only lasts for a night—the 15th night—the practices associated with the festival lasts for the entire month. 




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Individuals roaming evening streets of Hong Kong during the Ghost Month will be greeted with the smell of burning paper and the sight of celebrants tending roadside fires. The ghosts are believed to be desperately hungry after making the journey from hell to the world of the living, and burning paper offerings (“hell money,” paper sculptures), lighting candles and lanterns and of course, leaving food offerings will appease the ravenous spirits. 

This is practiced throughout the month, in addition to a variety of customs that could bring luck, such as sprinkling salt in front of a home’s door or keeping the community well lit. Taboo activities said to bring misfortune such as swimming, getting married and disturbing spirit offerings are likewise avoided. The festival itself includes a variety of activities on the night of the 15th, Chinese operas being the highlight. The Hungry Ghost Festival is observed in many East Asian countries, but it’s in Hong Kong where the community comes alive for its inhabitants and visitors alike.

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