All you need to know about the Hungry Ghost Festival 2023 in Singapore so you can explain this traditional Chinese festival to kids. Hungry Ghost Festival is held during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, aka Ghost Month!
The seventh month, August, is when the Hungry Ghost Festival 2023 takes place — it officially starts on 16 August 2023. If you’re seeing lots of incense candles and food offerings in your neighbourhood, it’s likely because people are observing Ghost Month. Let’s take a look at what the Hungry Ghost Festival 2023 in Singapore is all about.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is a traditional Chinese festival (also known as Zhong Yuan Jie 中元节 in Mandarin) and marks the opening of the Gates of Hell where the ghosts or spirits were able to return to Earth. Often called Chinese Ghost Festival, it’s celebrated by Buddhist and Taoist devotees to honour the memories of the deceased.
When is the Hungry Ghost Festival 2023?
Hungry Ghost Festival takes place traditionally on the 15th night of the 7th month which is sometimes called Chinese Ghost Month. This year, Ghost Day is on Wednesday 30 August 2023.
Traditionally Chinese people believed that the 7th lunar month was plagued with disasters so naturally they feared this month. The general belief is that it is unwise to make major decisions during this time. So ideally you don’t initiate a new business or move into a new house during the 7th month.
Hungry Ghost Festival 2023 Start and End Date
The ‘festivities’ of Hungry Ghost Festival are a month-long affair during the 7th month/Ghost month so the actual start date of Hungry Ghost Festival 2023 is 16 August 2023 and 14 September 2023 is the end date of the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Key Dates: Hungry Ghost Festival and Ghost Day
16 August 2023: the first day of the 7th lunar month: The Hungry Ghost Festival officially starts. It is said that on this day, the gates of hell open, allowing the deceased spirits to pass back into our world.
30 August 2023, is the 15th lunar day: This is Zhong Yuan Jie, also known as “Ghost Day,” when it’s believed that ghosts are most active. It is usual to burn joss paper and feed the ravenous spirits on this day.
14 September 2023: The Hungry Ghost Festival ends on the 29th day of the seventh month. The Gate of Hell is closed and ghosts go back. People offer sacrifices on this day to pray for safety for the rest of the year.
*Do note the lunar calendar may change so always double-check dates.
How is the Hungry Ghost Festival Celebrated?
During the Hungry Ghost Festival, the Chinese believe that ghosts and spirits, including deceased ancestors, roam the earth on a kind of ‘vacation’. During this ghost month and particularly on the 15th day, they wander around searching for food and entertainment or visit the living.
As a form of ancestor worship and to appease these spirits, all sorts of offerings are made during the Hungry Ghost Festival, especially on the three main days: the 1st, 15th and last day of the 7th month.
Offerings During Ghost Month/ Seventh Month
During Ghost Month (Seventh month) people will burn offerings in special metal cages set up outside housing estates and temples. Items such as paper money, incense candles/joss sticks and elaborate paper effigies of material goods, such as houses, cars, phones and even outfits are burned so the departed can use them in the afterlife. The paper creations are a marvel to see (you can often find them at HDB markets – there are shops offering them at Tiong Bahru market and Chinatown).
Another important part of the offerings during the Hungry Ghost Festival is food. Those celebrating will leave food on the sidewalk or at temples to satisfy the ghosts’ appetites, appease their deceased family members and in return bring good luck.
What Not to Do During Hungry Ghost Festival 2023
The 7th month is considered an inauspicious month, so there are lots of ‘don’ts’ in order to avoid encountering ‘bad luck’. A few include:
- Don’t move into a new house
- Don’t start a new business
- Don’t stay out late/go out at night
- Don’t disturb the offerings
- Don’t swim (and avoid any water activities)
- Don’t hang your clothes outside to dry too late
- Don’t pick up anything from the ground
- Don’t turn your head when someone calls you
- Don’t wear clothes with your name on it
- Don’t whistle
During the seventh month, some families may get the kids to wear a small red triangular religious pendant (within the pendant are religious papers from the temple) to their shirts to protect them during this month. Some people keep the paper in their wallets and others wear religious bracelets during this time.
Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival Performances
One of the highlights of the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore is the colourful performances of Chinese operas and live drama ‘getai’ performances. Getai used to be a stage for traditional opera and puppet performances, with a majority of songs performed in dialects such as Hokkien. In Singapore, performances for the Hungry Ghost Festival have evolved to include modern pop songs in Chinese and even Korean.
Large tents are set up near housing estates with these performances as well as e-Getai – livestreamed performances online. If you do see any physical shows, visitors are welcome but always ensure you leave the front row of seats empty – those are for the honoured ghosts themselves!
Read More: Kid-Friendly Guide to Chinatown