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Kid-friendly Guide to the Hungry Ghost Festival: 22 August 2021

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All you need to know to explain the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore to kids. This celebration is held during the seventh month in the lunar calendar (that’s 22 August this year)

Seeing lots of incense candles and food offerings in your neighbourhood? It’s time for the Hungry Ghost Festival!

What: The Hungry Ghost Festival is a traditional Chinese festival (also known as Zhong Yuan Jie in Mandarin) celebrated by Buddhist and Taoist devotees to honour the memories of the deceased.

When: Hungry Ghost Festival takes place every year during the seventh month (Ghost Month) in the lunar calendar. This year, Ghost Month takes place from 8 August to 6 September 2021, with Ghost Day falling on 22 August 2021.

hungry ghost festival
Burning paper effigies during Hungry Ghost Festival

How is the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrated?

The Chinese believe hungry ghosts and wandering spirits roam the earth, particularly on the 15th day (which is Ghost Day, falling on 22 August 2021 this year). As a form of ancestor worship and to appease these spirits, all sorts of offerings are made during Hungry Ghost Festival.

During Ghost 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 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 this 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.

Hungry Ghost Festival guide
Getai Performances at Hungry Ghost Festival: Chinese Opera

Hungry Ghost Festival Performances

One of the highlights of this festival 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. Pre-pandemic, you might have seen large tents set up near housing estates with these performances and it looks like similar celebrations will be put on pause this year. Instead, there’s the e-Getai – livestreamed performances available on social media for all to tune in. 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

Lead image: Choo Yut Shing via Flickr, 1st image Choo Yut Shing via Flickr, 2nd image by Crystal via Flickr

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