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Hungry Ghost Festival

Hungry Ghost Festival (Ghost Month 2023)

The Hungry Ghost Festival is one of the most important traditional festivals in China. It is also named Zhongyuan Festival by Taoists, or Yulanpen Festival by Buddhists. The festival falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Hungry Ghost Festival 2023 is on August 30. The Ghost Month 2023 is from August 16 to September 14.

The Chinese believe that during this period, the spirits of the ancestors roam the living realm. To appease them, people prepare food offerings and burn joss papers to honor their ancestors.

Ghost Month 2023

The Ghost Month 2023 is from August 16 to  September 14.   It is the 7th lunar month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, usually falling in August. 

Ghost Month is believed the scariest time of the year.  During this period, the gates of hell open, allowing ghosts to roam freely and indulge themselves for a month. As such, people should be cautious to avoid any encounters with these spirits.

Ghost Month Start Day ( August 16, 2023): The gates of the underworld open, and all ghosts flee the afterlife. Ghosts who have a master will return to their homes, while the masterless spirits roam the mortal realm, meandering everywhere as they search for sustenance.

Ghost Month End Day (September 14, 2023) : The gates of Hell close once more, causing the spirits to return to their spiritual realm.

Ghost Day ( August 30, 2023): Known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, it's believed that ghosts are most active on this day. Chinese people burn incense and provide offerings to appease hungry ghosts, in order to prevent them from causing harm.  

Chinese people take care of the ghosts by paying respect to their ancestors and entertaining wandering spirits. Celebrations are held on the start and end dates of Ghost Month, with festivities reaching their peak on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month - the Ghost Hungry Festival Day). 

During Ghost Month, misfortunes such as poor health, property loss, and bad luck for families tend to increase. Consequently, people pay close attention and remain vigilant throughout the month.

It is wise to avoid making major decisions during this time. Initiating a new business or moving into a new house within the month is considered inauspicious.

Top 5 Hungry Ghost Festival Dos - How Do Chinese Celebrate the Festival?

1. Honoring ancestors for good blessings . People Put the family’s ancestral tablets and photographs on the home altar. They will tell what's been happening to their ancestors on their knees. They hope they can receive a blessing from their ancestors in this way.

2. Offering food to the ghosts :   Prepare food offerings three times a day, including three bowls of rice, three sets of chopsticks, and three cups of wine for the offering. Meats, fruits, and sweets are also common. Food offerings are placed on the altar for the ancestors first, and then taken outside for homeless ghosts.

3. Burning incense, Joss papers, and red candles:  Burn incense, Joss papers, red candles, and other items to please the ghosts. Paper effigies may include fancy cars, big houses, smartphones, and even gaming devices. These items are burned at home, outside the home, at bridges, or in fields. Chinese people believe ghosts will enjoy more prosperity with more paper effigies burned.

4. Holding live performances for wandering souls : The performances are free and always held at night for the entertainment of ghosts. The first and second rows of the seats are always left vacant, as they are specially reserved for the VIP unseen ghosts. 

5. Floating water lanterns:  People float water lanterns in rivers and lakes to dispel ill fortune and pray for blessings. The hungry ghosts will follow the lanterns back to their spiritual realm, carrying away bad luck at the same time.

12 Major Hungry Ghost Festival Don’ts

How can you avoid any potential encounters with ghosts during the festival? Here are 10 major don'ts to help you stay safe.

1 . Don’t stay out too late at night.  This is especially important for children, elders, and pregnant women. During the festival, ghosts are at their strongest at night due to the Yin (阴) energy. It is wise to return home before sunset.

2.  Don't do any water activities . Water ghosts will look for victims to reincarnate on the day and may try to drown people in the water. Stay away from water activities during Ghost Month.

3.  Don't touch food offerings : The offerings by the roadside or in fields are prepared for ghosts. Touching or stepping on the offerings could 'offend' the ghosts.

4.  Don't pick up money on the street : The money is meant to bribe the guards of hell. Taking the money may offend them

5.  Avoid wearing red or black clothing : These two colors are particularly enticing to ghosts and can attract unwanted attention.

6.  Don't hang clothes outside at night : Wandering ghosts may try on the clothes, and then be inadvertently brought inside along with the clothes.

7.  Avoid scheduling major life events like moving to a new house, weddings, business openings, and medical operations.

8. Don't kill butterflies, especially those that enter your home, as they're believed to be visiting spirits.

9.   Don't open an umbrella indoors : Wandering ghosts seek shelter on this day, and opening an umbrella indoors could be seen as an invitation for them.

10.  Don't stick your chopsticks vertically into your bowl , as gods or ghosts may mistake it for an offering. This is because, during regular rituals, chopsticks are often inserted into offerings.

11.  Don't hang wind chimes at home.  While many enjoy the pleasant sound of wind chimes, caution is necessary during the Ghost Festival (7th lunar month). As ghosts are known to wander and be drawn to the sound, this can lead to unwelcome spiritual encounters. It's recommended to remove any wind chimes from your home during this time.

12.  Don't take photos during the festival,  as cameras might accidentally capture unintended sightings.

Hungry Ghost Festival Legends

Chinese celebrated the festival since the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220). The spirits and ghosts return to roam the earth during ghost month. Those who had relatives would return home to visit the living. Their family members offer prayers, food, and drinks for them. For the homeless ghosts, no one feeds them properly. Thus they will wander around and bring potential harm and misfortunes to the living.

Taoists and Buddhists perform special ceremonies and traditions to honor the spirits of ancestors  and to protect against ghosts’ attacks . People believe the dead ancestors can bless and protect them during the festival in this way.

Hungry Ghost Festival in Other Asian Counties

Singapore and malaysia.

 The Ghost (Hungry Ghost) Festival 2023 in Singapore and Malaysia will take place on August 21st. The Ghost Month will last from August 12 to September 9, 2023.

Singaporeans and Malaysian please the ghosts with live performances. The activity will last the whole seventh month of the lunar calendar. The shows include Chinese operas, songs, dances, and so on. Show times are from 8:00 at night to 12.00 AM midnight. Don’t sit in the seats in the first row; they are left empty for the ghosts.

In Japan, the Ghost Festival is also known as Oben Festival. It is a traditional Buddhist custom to remember the ancestors. The festival lasts for three days, from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month.

Japanese observed the festival at different times in different regions depending on calendars. On the first day, people will hang lanterns in front of houses to guide the ghosts back home. On the last day, floating lanterns are put into rivers to guide the ghosts back to their world.

In Thailand, the ghost festival, known as the Por Tor (Hungry Ghost) Festival or Sart Chin, is celebrated in some parts of the country, particularly in Phuket. In 2023, the Por Tor Festival is expected to take place around August 21st. 

Related Traditional Chinese Festivals

  • Top 10 Traditional Festivals in China
  • Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day)
  • Double Ninth Festival (Chongyang Festival)

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The Ghost Festival (also known as Zhongyuan Festival by Taoists or Yu Lan Pen Festival by Buddhists) is the day to pay respects to the deceased by offering sacrifices. In Chinese culture, it is thought that all ghosts will come out from the hell on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, so the day is called the Ghost Day and the seventh lunar month is the Ghost Month . → Can You Move House During Ghost Month? →  Can You Get Married During Ghost Month? Difference between Ghost Festival and Qingming Festival In China, people also have the custom of offering sacrifices to the deceased on the Spring Festival , Qingming Festival , and Hanyi  F estival ( Hanyi Festival) . But different from these festivals, the Ghost Festival is the day that all ghosts will come out to visit the livings. Also, people only offer sacrifices to their ancestors and relatives on the above festivals, while during the Ghost Festival, besides ancestors and relatives, people will offer sacrifices to all the ghosts or spirits. So, it's also called the Hungry Ghost Festival. The Hungry Ghost Festival is regarded as the most important one among all the festivals that offering sacrifices the deceased.

History and Legend about Hungry Ghost Festival About the history and legends of the ghost festival, there are mainly three ones. The most popular one  is Mulian Rescues His Mother. Click to get to know What's the story behind the Hungry Ghost Festival?

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Fast Facts about Ghost Festival:

Date of ghost festival.

In China, people think on the Ghost month, the gate of hell will open to allow the ghosts and spirits go back to the living world. During the month, those have families will visit their families and those alone will roam on the street to seek food and entertainment. Family members usually offer sacrifice to their deceased ancestors and relatives during the month and on the Ghost day. They are honored with delicious food three times a day on a table. The family’s ancestral tablets and photographs will be put on the table with incense burning near them. People also pay tribute to those unknown wandering ghosts with food and burn joss paper to please the ghosts on the 15th (some places on the 14th) day of the 7th lunar month to avoid the harm by them. Buddhists and Taoists usually perform ceremonies on the day to help the ghosts ease the sufferings. They will set altars for them and chant scriptures. Monks often throw rice or some small foods into the air to distribute them to the ghosts. On the evening of the Ghost day, people also make lanterns and float them on the river to help their relatives find their way back to home. The lanterns are usually lotus flower-shaped with light or candles. Some people also write their ancestors’ name on the lanterns.

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More Traditional Chinese Festivals:

Chinese Spring Festival        Laba Festival        Lantern Festival        Dragon Heads-raising Day        Qingming Festival        Double Seventh Festival         Dragon Boat Festival           Mid-Autumn Festival        The Double Ninth Festival        Winter Solstice

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8 Ways to Celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival in 2023

From ghost-feeding ceremonies to folding joss paper ingots, discover the vibrant traditions of this annual East Asian religious holiday.

Headshot of Corinne Sullivan

What is the meaning behind the Hungry Ghost Festival?

How to celebrate ghost month, what to avoid during ghost month.

Known as Zhongyuan Festival in Taoism (also spelled Daoism) and Yulanpen Festival in Buddhism , the month-long celebration kicks off at the start of the seventh lunar month of the year in the Chinese calendar. During the annual event, it's believed that spirits are allowed to break free from the afterlife and roam the earthly realm. To pay tribute to the dearly departed, Buddhists and Taoists celebrate by orchestrating ghost-feeding ceremonies, folding joss paper ingots and partaking in other meaningful cultural customs designed to ease the suffering of the dead and prevent mischievous encounters with restless spirits. It's a time for people reflect on the transient nature of life, express gratitude to their ancestors, and reinforce familial bonds.

Whether you're looking for ways to celebrate with your own family or are simply hoping to deepen your understanding of this enchanting and reverent annual celebration, here's everything you need to know about the Hungry Ghost Festival.

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When is the Hungry Ghost Festival in 2023?

According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the entire seventh month of the year is known as "Ghost Month." In 2023, according to the Gregorian calendar, that means Ghost Month will start around August 16 and end around September 14 .

The Hungry Ghost Festival, or "Ghost Day," is always celebrated on the 15th night of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. That means, in 2023, the date of Ghost Day is Wednesday, August 30 .

Ghost Month is an annual event celebrated primarily by Chinese communities in Asian countries including China, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, and Indonesia. It holds significant cultural and religious importance, and typically falls in July, August or September.

According to traditional beliefs, during this month, the gates of the afterlife are opened and the spirits of ancestors return to walk amongst the living. These wandering spirits are referred to as "hungry ghosts," since they're believed to be restless and in need of appeasement. The festival aims to honor and respect these spirits through various rituals, performances and offerings. "The Ghost Festival popular in Asian traditions is a unique way of answering our questions about death through reconnecting with the dead and their past," says Dr. Jiang Wu , an East Asian Studies professor at the University of Arizona.

One significant aspect of the festival is the practice of offering food and material possessions, like money, to the spirits. It is believed that these offerings provide comfort and sustenance to the hungry ghosts, ensuring their well-being and preventing them from causing mischief or misfortune. The festival also sees communities engage in vibrant cultural festivities and rituals dedicated to honoring one's lineage and preserving family traditions. "These rituals and ceremonies are often facilitated by Buddhist monks or Daoist priests to release the 'ghosts' of their ancestors from the suffering in hells and feed them with the symbolic food of compassion," Dr. Wu explains.

Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations and ceremonies vary from region to region. However, there are some common practices across communities. For example, on Ghost Day, "tablets of the diseased ancestors and relatives must be displayed, and rituals of venerations must be performed," according to Dr. Wu. Likewise, popular ritual operas, such as the Buddhist legend of Mulian releasing his mother from hell, are often staged.

As night falls, it's also customary to burn paper money commonly known as joss paper, along with other paper offerings for the deceased. "Paper lanterns will also be released in rivers and lakes during the night to guide the spirit of their ancestors to return to home," Dr. Wu explains. "However, the general atmosphere today is not spooky or horrifying. Rather, it has gradually evolved into a celebration of family continuity and community solidarity."

Amanda Hsiung-Blodgett, founder of Miss Panda Chinese and author of First Mandarin Sounds , echoes this sentiment, adding, "In Chinese culture, Ghost Month is a cultural event — it's about paying respect to deceased family members and the deceased with no families. The festival centers around showing respect, instead of being solely perceived as a celebration, as some may think outside of the Chinese community."

Consider the following meaningful ways to pay homage to your family and ancestors during the Hungry Ghost Festival:

1. Fold joss paper ingots

hungry ghost festival celebrations joss paper ingots

In addition to burning paper money, it’s common practice to fold joss paper sheets into the shape of gold ingots, a.k.a. gold bars, which were used as currency in ancient China. It's a fun and easy craft for the whole family — just buy some joss paper sheets and check out a joss paper ingot folding tutorial online to get started.

2. Make floating lanterns

hungry ghost festival celebrations floating lanterns

It's a tradition to float paper lanterns down a river as a way to lead spirits home during the Hungry Ghost Festival. To make your own, you'll need string, coated paper plates, and tissue paper, as well as a paper lantern tutorial to show you how it's done.

3. Create butterfly puppets

hungry ghost festival celebrations paper butteflies

According to legend, insects like butterflies, moths, and grasshoppers are believed to be the spirits of ancestors returning for a visit. Pay tribute to these gentle creatures by having your kids create butterfly puppets using craft paper and Popsicle sticks.

4. Hang orange decorations.

hungry ghost festival celebrations hanging citrus craft

In Chinese culture, oranges symbolize good luck and wealth and they're often part of the offerings during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Spruce up your home for the holiday by hanging DIY citrus fruit decorations made from paper and yarn.

5. Cook up some sticky rice dumplings.

hungry ghost festival celebrations peng kway

Teochew png kueh , savory dumplings filled with stir-fried rice, peanuts, garlic, shallots, and more, are often associated with Hungry Ghost festivities. Traditionally dyed in an auspicious pink hue, these dumplings symbolize good fortune and can be presented as offerings to ancestors.

6. Attend community celebrations and performances.

hungry ghost festival celebrations community performances

Communities will typically stage operas and other types of performances throughout Ghost Month. Just make sure to leave the front row empty, as that row is typically reserved for spirits.

7. Enjoy a family dinner together.

hungry ghost festival celebrations enjoy a family dinner

Like many traditional Chinese holidays, the Hungry Ghost festivities may include a family dinner. However, unlike other holidays, the focus is less on the symbolism of the food and more about feeding ancestors. Simply enjoying a family meal is a great way to pay tribute (just make sure you set an extra place or two at the table for the departed).

8. Perform an appeasement ceremony.

hungry ghost festival celebrations appeasement ceremony

It's tradition to set up a makeshift altar outdoors in order to display offerings for passing ghosts. In addition to joss paper, joss sticks, and incense, offerings can include uncooked rice, peanuts, candies, raw noodles, fruit, and even bags of salt and sugar. Small cups of tea and rice wine are also appreciated.

While the holiday revolves around many customs designed to display filial piety, there are also activities and practices that are considered taboo, as a way to show respect to the spirits and avoid attracting negative energy. Traditionally, some of the most common Hungry Ghost Festival taboos include:

  • Swimming in rivers or going near bodies of water
  • Holding weddings or other large parties that involve loud music
  • Taking photographs or recording videos at night
  • Moving into or buying a new home
  • Disturbing or stepping on offerings
  • Hanging clothes outside at night
  • Watching scary movies

While some take these Ghost Month don'ts to heart, "the young generation in Chinese society no longer takes it seriously," according to Hsiung-Blodgett. Similarly, adherence may vary among different regions. If you are in doubt or wish to observe local customs, it's best to consult with local communities or seek guidance from those familiar with the traditions of the specific region.

Headshot of Corinne Sullivan

Corinne Sullivan is an Editor at Cosmopolitan , where she covers a variety of beats, including lifestyle, entertainment, relationships, shopping, and more. She can tell you everything you need to know about the love lives of A-listers, the coziest bedsheets, and the sex toys actually worth your $$$. She is also the author of the 2018 novel Indecent . Follow her on Instagram for cute pics of her pup and bébé. 

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A home survival guide to hungry ghost festival [2022].

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Whether it’s renovating your house or moving into a new house, it’s always an exciting journey. But, it is also a long and tiring process – making sure that everything is running according to schedule with little to no hiccups so that there’s no daly. 

As much as we like to start living in the new house as soon as possible, if it happens to be the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, also known as the ‘Ghost Month’ here in Singapore, most would stop any renovation work or avoid house moving at all. That includes purchasing and delivering furniture in Singapore as well! 

What is the Ghost month, and what are some of the do’s and don’t during this month? 

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Image via Unsplash by @frankiefoto

7th month aka ‘ghost month’.

The seventh month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar is also known as the Ghost Month. During the Ghost Month, it is believed that spirits jailed in Hell get to roam the human realm for a month. For this year, the Ghost Month falls between 29th July to 26th August 2022. 

On the 15th night of the seventh month, Zhongyuan Jie, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, Buddhist and Taoist families will burn paper effigies and prepare food offerings to the spirits of their deceased. 

If you see offerings placed by the roadside on the streets, be careful not to walk into them! Those offerings are offered to wandering souls that have no families to care for them, or died because of unfortunate events. It is believed that the ghosts who roam the streets are hungry and unhappy so food offerings are offered as a peace treaty to the ghosts so that they will not disturb the living while they roam the streets for the month. 

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#1. don’t open your umbrella indoors.

Opening your umbrella indoor may invite ghosts to take shelter underneath it and stay at your home. While we usually open your umbrellas and dry them indoors, remember to close them before the sun sets.

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Image via Unsplash via @pechka

#2. don’t leave your front door open all night.

Leaving your front door ajar may seem like an invitation for ghosts roaming around the streets at night to enter your home. Besides, keep your door closed can keep out the negative energy during this month.

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Image by @raphisee via Unsplash

#3. do not kill any insects at home.

It is believed that the insects in your home are ancestors or your deceased family and relatives that came back to visit during the 7th Month. If you see any insects even if it’s mosquitoes, avoid smashing them as it might be your Great-grandma!

Even if you do not believe in such superstitions, it might be best to allow insects to roam freely just for the month!

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#4. Don’t move into a new house or renovate your home

It is best to avoid moving into your new abode during the 7th Month as it would invite ‘unclean’ things and bad luck into the house.

However, for homeowners who are have to shift into a new house or renovate their home during this month, they can hire a Master to get an auspicious date.

As for renovating the house, carrying out any form of renovation such as drilling and hammering may disturb the ghosts and anger them.

If you are only purchasing new furniture, you might be worried about the noise during installation. While many furniture requires installation at the customer’s house, Wihardja’s furniture are crafted from solid teak wood hence many furniture such as study tables in Singapore would be delivered installed and ready for use, reducing any noise.  

If you are purchasing new furniture in Singapore and is worried about shifting in new furniture during the 7th Month, approach any of our friendly staffs at Wihardja and we can arrange the delivery to your preferred date!

For others that don’t believe in superstitions, August is actually a good month to start renovating as the house would be ready for end-year festivities!

ghost festival end 2022

Image via Unsplash by Jerry Wang

#5. don’t hang windchimes at home.

No matter how pleasant you windchimes sound when the wind blows through the windows, take them down during the Ghost Month! Wandering souls may mistake the tinkling of windchimes as an invitation to enter your home.

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#6. don’t hang your clothes out overnight.

Ghosts may try on your clothes that are hanging out to dry, bringing negative energy to your home. So remember to keep your clothes in!

#7. No Whistling At Night

Whistling at night, not just in the Chinese culture, is believed to attract bad luck or evil spirits. So, remember to try not to whistle along to your favourite song playing on the radio during this month.

With these myths debunked, it is safe to say that renovation or shifting in new furniture into your home is perfectly okay. However, for a peace of mind, you might want to consult a professional for an auspicious date especially if you have family members or relatives who strongly believe in these superstitions! This can avoid an unnecessary blaming or ‘I told you so’ in the event that any mishaps happen! 

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The Truth About the Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival

Survival guide to the singapore hungry ghost festival.

Welcome to LTL Mandarin Schools guide to the Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival .

If you’re in Singapore in August/September, you’ll probably be asking yourself what the hell is going on ? The pristine city is full of trashcans on fire sending ash everywhere!

You’ll also find offerings strewed out across footpaths and large tents in parks with live performances.

Late August and early September is a very out of character period of time for Singaporeans given what we know about the government’s harsh penalties for littering.

However, there is a straightforward explanation. It’s the Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival !

Singapore Ghost Festival Offering

Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival, known locally as just Ghost Festival or Zhongyuan Jie (中元節), Gui Jie (鬼節) or Yulan Festival (盂兰盆节) is a Buddhist and Taoist festival celebrated in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Similar to America’s Hallowe’en , the Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival is a mysterious and eerie time for locals and can be downright frightening for those who do not obey the rules of the spiritual festival.

Story of Hungry Ghost Festival Length of Hungry Ghost Festival Customs of Hungry Ghost Festival Do NOT do These During the Hungry Ghost Festival What is a Hungry Ghost When was the first Ghost Festival Is Hungry Ghost Festival a Public Holiday

What is the Story Behind the Hungry Ghost Festival?

The origins of the Ghost Festival go back to ancient India from a Mahayana Scripture which depicts the story of Maudgalyāyana  (birth name:   Kolita) who was one of Buddha’s closest disciples .

Legend has it that when Maudgalyayana reached enlightenment (Abhijñā), he then used his new powers to find his deceased parents.

He discovered his mother to be in the hungry ghost realm (hell), not surprisingly she was withered and hungry, but when Maudgalyayana tried to give her a bowl of rice it turned to ash .

Maudgalyayana asked Buddha to help him. Buddha explained that you can transfer merits to your parents in this life and past lives.

You can do so by offering food during ‘Pravarana’ (Buddist Lent) which is around the end of the monsoon season and occurs on the 15th day of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar.

How Long is the Hungry Ghost Festival?

The Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival falls on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month . Being lunar-based means the official date on the Gregorian calendar is constantly changing.

To see all previous and upcoming dates for the Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival, check out this Chinese calendar .

The Hungry Ghost Festival then lasts a total of fifteen days .

Some previous and upcoming dates for Singapore Hungry Ghost Festivals:

  • August 15th, 2019
  • September 2nd, 2020
  • August 22nd, 2021
  • August 12th, 2022

Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival

What do you do During the Hungry Ghost Festival?

If you believe in the superstitions of Hungry Ghost Festival , you’ll have plenty of reasons for wanting not to upset the troubled spirits that are wandering the streets. 

Many people in Singapore give out offerings to appease the wandering spirits of their ancestors. These offerings are usually ceremonial victuals (food), incense, joss paper, hell money and origami-like paper gifts.

You’ll see designated tents and sheds appear around the city as a designated area for locals to burn their offerings.
Go check out the nightly Chinese operas, which are put on to entertain the living and the dead. DO NOT , I repeat, DO NOT sit in the front row as these seats are reserved for the ghosts.

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What CAN’T you do During the Hungry Ghost Festival?

We have already touched on a big NO-NO when attending the nightly Chinese operas during ghost festival but there are a few more good practice don’ts for you during Singapore’s Hungry Ghost Festival.

  • DON’T touch the food offerings.
  • DON’T stand your chopsticks vertically into your rice as starving ghosts might take this to be an invitation to join you to eat.
  • DON’T wear red or black as these colours attract ghosts.
  • DON’T take selfies unless you want some supernatural photo-bombers.
  • DON’T swim in the ocean at night, spirits who drowned are looking for a people to trade places with them so they can be re-born.
  • DON’T move to a new house , start a business or get married as this is considered to be an ill-omened time.
  • DON’T pick up money on the street as ghosts might think you’re doing so to bribe the guards of hell and might make the afterlife harder for you.
  • DON’T sleep facing a mirror as they attract spirits.
  • DON’T kill bugs, they might be your reincarnated ancestors coming to visit you.

Bonus : avoid number 4 at all times but more so during ghost festival as it sounds like ‘death’.

What is a Hungry Ghost?

A Hungry Ghost is a concept taught in Chinese folk religion , Taoism and Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism.

A ‘ Hungry Ghost ‘ isn’t a literal hungry ghost. 

To understand what a Hungry Ghost is, first you must understand the meaning of a regular ‘Ghost’.

When you die, you become a regular ghost and would slowly weaken and die a second time. 

By contrast, a ‘Hungry Ghost’ is s spirit of a person who has died under miserable circumstances.

Hungry Ghost Offerings

Hungry Ghosts can emerge from death by violence, being unhappy or when a whole family is killed, and the family can no longer pay tribute and make offerings to their ancestors. 

Buddhism and Taoism also say that a soul can be reborn as a hungry ghost if you commit evil deeds such as killing, stealing or sexual misconduct. 

When was the First Ghost Festival celebrated?

The Ghost Festival first appeared in the first half of the 6th century AD as a Buddhist festival .

In Singapore the festival was first mention in a newspaper in 1873 meaning it would have been celebrated around the same time the British arrived.

Discover more about Singapore’s history .

Is Hungry Ghost Festival a Public Holiday in Singapore?

Sorry to tell you, your Singaporean boss will NOT be letting you take the day off during the Ghost Festival. 

Despite Singapore acknowledging and having a large number of public holidays to be inclusive all the Singaporean cultures , the Hungry Ghost festival is sadly not an official public holiday .

Final Thoughts

Even though the Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival represents the ‘gates of hell opening’ and the spirit realm and earth being closer than usual. Buddhist teachings tell us not to be afraid , in fact, quite the opposite! 

It is a time of joy and celebration! Hence the pop-up stages with performances called getais (歌台).

Please do enjoy the show at the getais, the locals don’t bite, and it’s truly a very special thing to be a part of as this tradition is only performed in Singapore and Malaysia as part of their ghost festival.

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Singapore Hungry Ghost Festival – FAQ’s

The Hungry Ghost festival originated in the 6th century AD in India as a Buddhist tradition.

Today it is celebrated in southern China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

It is NOT a public holiday during the Hungry Ghost festival in Singapore.

Some superstitions around the Hungry Ghost Festival are not to touch food offerings, put your chopsticks vertically in food, pick up money on the street or go swimming at night time.

See our full list of Do’s and Don’ts during Singapore’s Hungry Ghost Festival and the reasons behind each rule.

The Hungry Ghost Festival always begins on July 15th according to the Lunar calendar .

In 2022 it will begin on August 22nd according to the Gregorian calendar.

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Ghost Month and the Hungry Ghost Festival: What you need to know

The Ghost Month starts on Friday (29 July) in Singapore.

Taking place during the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar, the Ghost Month marks the period when the gates of heaven and hell are believed to be open, and ghosts and spirits of the deceased can return to the land of the living.

Key dates and events

What is the Ghost Month?

The Hungry Ghost Festival, or Zhong Yuan Jie , which marks the peak of the Ghost Month, falls on 12 August this year, with believers burning incense and joss paper, as well as paper replicas.

Those in the heartlands will often witness colourful getai stage shows set up, with loud music, but remember to avoid sitting in the first "empty" row .

The Ghost Month ends on 26 August.

The festival is believed to have been celebrated in Singapore since the country's time as a British colony. In the many public housing estates in Singapore, large bins are often set up for practitioners to burn their offerings, and the various Town Councils often remind residents not to burn these offerings elsewhere.

Are people allowed to burn their offerings in public?

Safety tips when burning incense, joss paper

According to the National Environment Agency , the burning of joss paper "is a religious practice and not regulated by any law".

"As such activities are carried out for religious reasons; we have to take into consideration the multi-religious nature of our society," the NEA says.

Superstitions and beliefs

12 things to avoid during the Ghost Month

Are Singaporeans superstitious about buying and moving House during seventh month?

The Hungry Ghost Month and Feng Shui

10 taboos during the 7th month in Singapore

The list of do's and don'ts during the Ghost Month are numerous, from avoiding red to avoiding tapping your friend on their shoulder.

Some just involve basic respect, such as not stepping on offerings put by the roadside or pavements.

A general trend is that the more superstitious will avoid things such as moving homes or renovating, but some might even give swimming at night a miss.

Ghost Month around the world

Malaysian sells COVID-19 vaccine mock-ups made of paper to honour the dead

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Ghost month grub: Dead pets get earthly feast at Vietnam animal cemetery

The Ghost Month and Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated by many across the globe, not just in Singapore. It has its roots in Taoist and Buddhist culture, and the practice of ancestor worship.

The significance of the festival does differ between the two somewhat. The Taoist origins focus more on appeasing the wandering spirits during the month, whereas in Buddhist culture the festival is more about piety and remembering ancestors, like the legend of Mu Lian.

The story goes that Mu Lian sought help from Buddha and made offerings to alleviate the sufferings of his vegetarian mother, who had been punished in hell for consuming meat unknowingly.

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hungry ghost

10 things you should never do during Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore

Take heed of these rules during this spooky month

Delfina Utomo

Here's a festival unlike any other in Singapore: the Hungry Ghost Festival. Every year, for a month, the Chinese honour the memories of those who have deceased. The Hungry Ghost Festival is much rooted in Buddhist and Taoist culture and happens during the seventh month of the Lunar calendar across fourteen days. 

When is the Hungry Ghost Festival?

2023's Hungry Ghost Festival lasts from August 16 to September 14. 

What happens during Hungry Ghost Festival?

During the Hungry Ghost Festival, it is believed that the dead return to 'visit' the living – and they can get mischievous if they are not pleased. To satisfy them, various offerings are made including hell money, flashy cars, fancy jewellery, lavish mansions, and even the latest iPhone  – all i n paper form of course.

Getai shows are also held all around the island to keep our otherworldly guests entertained. Most of the shows include song and dance performances, Chinese opera, and comedy. 

As with other celebrations and festivals in Singapore, there is a list of dos and don'ts we should observe (we're a superstitious lot!) – we unpack the list. 

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Things you should never do during Hungry Ghost Festival

Step on offerings

Step on offerings

While there are designated areas for burning hell notes and setting up offerings, do watch where you are walking. Sometimes there might be joss sticks or food offerings placed in corners, along the side of footpaths, and under trees. Stepping on these offerings might incur the wrath of the deceased and you wouldn't want to have a hungry and angry ghost following you around for two weeks. 

Sit in the first row at getai shows

Sit in the first row at getai shows

If you attend a getai show and find the first few rows of seats (aka where the best view is) empty, don't rush to grab a seat. Those seats are left empty for a reason – yep, it's the VIP seating for the dearly departed guests who are in the area visiting the living. 

Swim at night

Swim at night

Water bodies, especially the sea, attract spirits. It is believed that the spirits of those who have drowned lurk in the depths, looking to pull the legs of unsuspecting swimmers and drag them into the afterlife to be their companions. If you have no interest in a dead bestie, we advise that you stay away from water bodies during this time.  

Turn when someone calls your name at night

Turn when someone calls your name at night

Hear your name being called while you're out late at night? Don't turn around. It might just be a wandering spirit up for some giggles. Instead, walk to a well-lit area and just hope it doesn't follow you around (or home).

Sing or whistle

Sing or whistle

Have a tendency to talk, sing, or whistle to yourself? It's best to cut that habit. In the same way that ghosts are attracted to getai concerts, it's likely they'll be attracted to the sound of your voice. Trust us, that's an audience that you don't need. 

Stay out late

Stay out late

Obviously, during a period where there are ghosts roaming the streets, returning home before it gets too dark is ideal. But if you find yourself working overtime, or staying out with friends till the wee hours, it might be wise to stop by a crowded place before you head home. Spirits detest places that are crowded and loud, and it might throw them off for a bit. 

Get married or move house

Get married or move house

Thinking of getting married or moving house during the Hungry Ghost Festival? Time to change your dates. Doing something auspicious at an inauspicious time is an open invitation for unwanted guests and bad luck. 

Kill insects

Kill insects

The older generations believe that flying bugs – usually moths and butterflies – are reincarnations of our ancestors. So if you see a moth in the house on a Hungry Ghost Festival night, it might be wise to not squash or kill it. It's likely just a relative paying a visit. 

Hang laundry overnight

Hang laundry overnight

Not into sharing your clothes? Then avoid hanging your laundry out too late at night. The human-like shape of clothes is believed to attract spirits – and they may even 'try' them on and leave some negative energy behind in the process. 

Cover your forehead

Cover your forehead

The Chinese believe that 'yang' energy emanates from the forehead. This bright energy is said to keep spirits away, so keeping your forehead uncovered can protect you. Time to cut off those trendy bangs – or at least sweep them up with gel or a hairband when you're out at night. 

But do carry jade

But do carry jade

Here's one thing you should do: carry jade with you. Jade is not only good for aesthetic purposes but it can also be used as a protective charm for things or beings that you cannot 'see'. Don't own any jade jewellery? Carry around a healing crystal used for protection instead like smoky quartz, tourmaline, obsidian or tiger's eye.

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Feng Shui Beginner

19 Things You Shoud Never Do During Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival is a traditional Chinese festival celebrated on the seventh month of the lunar calendar. According to Chinese customs, people believe that the gates of hell open up during this time, and the hungry ghosts are released to roam among humans.

On the eve of the festival, people will light candles and paper lanterns to guide lost souls back to heaven. They also offer food and other items to sustain these spirits. The following day, people will burn hell money as an offering to help these spirits move on from their suffering.

Like most Chinese customs such as weddings , pregnancy , etc., this month has traditions and rules to follow.

With the Hungry Ghost Festival this year from 16 August 2023 to 14 September 2023 , we have listed out 19 taboos not to do to stay safe during this period.

Key Dates To Take Note For Hungry Ghost Festival 2023

16 August 2023 (First day of 7th lunar month) – The Hungry Ghost Festival has officially begun, and you will see many people burning joss papers. The Chinese believe that the gates of hell open on this date, allowing the deceased spirits to wander into the human world.

30 August 2023 (Lunar 15th Day) – We called this day Zhong Yuan Jie, also known as “Ghost Day”. People believed that the spirits were most active on this day. Therefore, It is usual to burn joss paper and feed the spirits on this day.

14 September 2023 – The Hungry Ghost Festival ends on the 29th day of the lunar 7th month. The Gate of Hell is closed, and ghosts go back. As a closure ritual, many will offer sacrifices on this day to pray for safety for the rest of the year.

What You Should Avoid Doing During The Hungry Ghost Festival?

1. Do not stay out late at night because spirit might follow you back.

2. Do not stab your chopsticks on your bowl of rice because it is rude in terms of table manners and resembles the joss sticks offerings to the dead. It indirectly curses your own death and tells the spirits that it is their bowl of rice.

3. Do not take a photo at night because you might capture other stuff you don’t wish to see.

4. If your birthday fall in the ghost month, avoid celebrating your birthday at night and blowing your cake. It will be better to celebrate during the daytime.

5. Do not open an umbrella in the house, especially a red one, because wandering ghosts might seek “shelter” under the umbrella.

6. Avoid working late this month because humans are weak at night, while the spirit is strong and might cause possession.

7. Do not cover your forehead. Instead, try to pin up your head as high as possible.

red umbrella hungry ghost month

9. Do not wait at a bus stop after midnight, especially after bus service hours.

10. Do not use black or dark colour manicures because black nails may lead the spirits to think that you are one of them and may lead you back to hell.

11. Do not enter a cemetery or an abandoned house because you might attract a wandering spirit back with you.

12. Avoid spitting and blowing your nose in public or at any tree/plant.

13. Don’t lean against the wall because spirits like to stick on walls because they’re cooler. So avoid leaning against them during the month.

14. Don’t turn your head around if someone pats you on the shoulder. Many believe that living humans have two protective flames on each shoulder. If a ghost pats you on the back and you only turn your head, you’ll snuff out that protective flame, thus making you vulnerable. To avoid this, turn the whole body at once instead of just the head.

15. Do not kill any insects that come into your house – It is a Chinese belief that insects especially are the reincarnation of spirits or visits of your late close ones.

16. Do not commence your renovation works in the 7th lunar month as it might cause a disturbance.

17. You should avoid buying cars or houses. The Chinese believe it brings bad luck if you purchase in this particular month. However, shopping first and signing all legal agreements after the month is fine.

18. Do not hang your clothes overnight as it easily attracts spirit to possess them.

19. Do not hold your wedding dinner celebration this month because people believe doing so can bring bad luck to the marriage and even cause disharmony.

Take a peek at  these Hungry Ghost Month Taboos

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Lifestyle Asia Singapore

Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore: Origins, superstitions, and supernatural stories

The Ghost Month, or as it’s more popularly known, the Hungry Ghost Festival, is a Taoist and Buddhist festival. It traditionally falls on the 15th (or 14th in some places) night of the seventh month in Chinese calendars. The whole month is regarded as ghostly when spirits are believed to come out from the underworlds and realms beyond. Curious to know more? Keep reading as we explain the origins of the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore, including the superstitions and supernatural stories associated with it.

The Hungry Ghost Festival shouldn’t be confused with the Ching Ming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day in April. Also, don’t mix it up with the Double Ninth or Cheung Yeung Festival in autumn. Despite being a significant occasion in Singapore, the day of the Hungry Ghost Festival is not a public holiday. It’s still observed with food offerings, incense and joss paper burning, opera performances, and other festivities.

Origins of the Hungry Ghost Festival

There are a few origin stories for the Ghost Festival. The  Yulanpen Sutra , an ancient Indian Buddhist account, recounts how Maudgalyayana (one of the Buddha’s closest disciples) found his deceased mother in the Hungry Ghost (preta) realm. A vegetarian, his mother had accidentally consumed soup made with meat. So, she ended up being sentenced to hell.

Maudgalyayana sought help from the Buddha, who advised him to offer food on the preta’s behalf to the monastic community. This act would allow former pretas to be reborn and released from suffering.

In Taoism, the festival serves as a judgment day for ghosts. Falling on Lord Qingxu’s birthday (the earth’s celestial official), the deity is believed to gather all spirits together and sift through their records. Then, they decide who will be forgiven and who will be punished.

hungry ghost festival hong kong

Superstitions observed during Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival falls during the full moon and the beginning of the new season. It is thought that the gates of both heaven and hell open up, leaving spirits free to roam our world.

Some are lost souls including ancestors of the living who weren’t given an adequate burial or send-off, were treated badly when alive or were simply forgotten after death. To appease the restless souls, believers stick to these practices.

  • Making food offerings to keep the spirits well-fed 
  • Burning joss paper
  • Keeping all clothes inside the house at night. Clothes hanging outside are bound to be borrowed by spirits who may leave behind negative energy
  • Making sure to close your doors and windows
  • Keeping the lights on 
  • Visiting a Chinese opera performance but making sure to not sit in an empty seat reserved for the dead
  • Avoiding swimming as the spirit of a vengeful person who drowned may pull them under
  • Avoiding the last round of transport at night
  • Refraining from wearing a lot of black or red coloured clothing as it attracts spirits
  • Keeping photo taking to the minimum
  • Avoiding events such as moving into a new home, getting married, or starting a new business on the day
  • Avoiding sticking your chopsticks into your bowl of food vertically as it represents incense for the dead
  • Avoiding whistling or singing when you’re walking alone at night as ghosts and spirits are attracted to such sounds, and may take it as an invitation to follow or interact with you
  • Avoiding disturbing any offerings on the ground as doing so will anger the spirits

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Supernatural stories relating to the Hungry Ghost Festival

There are plenty of chilling tales for Halloween and Hungry Ghost festival month. Believers choose to stay away from these spooky spots during this time, but many also indulge in some ghost-hunting as the gates of the underworld open.

Hungry ghost festival hong kong

Bride’s Pool

This stream pool and waterfall spot in Hong Kong’s New Territories is popular for its picturesque hike. Legends say that a bride was being carried to her wedding in a sedan chair by porters when one slipped on the rocks above the waterfall causing her to fall into the pool below. Tragically, her heavy wedding wear weighed her down and she drowned. Her spirit (often spotted dressed in the red cheongsam) lurks in the waters, waiting to drown unsuspecting visitors. So, be careful on Bride’s Pool Road as it’s known for tricky bends, blind spots, and the many accidents that have taken place on it.

Seven Sisters (Tsat Tsz Mui)

This neighbourhood east of North Point was formerly home to a Hakka village and beach. Its name comes from an urban legend, Tsat Tsz Mui, which means “seven sisters” in Cantonese. According to the story, seven girls once pledged to be sisters for eternity and vowed never to get married. They even tied their hair into buns to mark themselves as spinsters.

But their families had other plans, betrothing the third sister. Refusing to break her vow, she makes a plan to kill herself. When the other sisters learn of her intentions, they join her. So, they all jumped into the sea the day before the wedding together. As the myth goes, the bodies were never found, but seven boulders appeared the next day along the coastline. Villagers believed they were the seven girls, so the area was renamed Tsat Tsz Mui.

In 1911, a swimming shed was built in the area. But many believe it remains haunted, with frequent tales of men drowning. The former coastline was extended to the one we know today, and the village was gradually replaced with public housing estates and buildings.

hungry ghost festival hong kong

Single Braid Road   

The Chinese University of Hong Kong is home to more than one supernatural story. The most well-known is the legend of the braided ghost girl. There are many versions of the tale, but its victims remain the same—male university students.

Legend has it that a beautiful girl was eloping with her lover from the mainland to Hong Kong. Some versions say the couple had an argument; others say they were fearful of being stopped by immigration officers at Kowloon . So, they decided to leap from the carriage to avoid being caught. But whatever the reasoning, the girl jumped alone from her carriage as the train went past the university campus. Her hair blew in the wind and a single braid was caught in the door of the train, ripping her hair and skin. Now, her faceless ghost roams the campus, haunting male students.

10 most haunted places in the world to visit – if you dare

Murray House

This Victorian-era building stands in Stanley now, but it was originally built in 1846 in Central. Before being painstakingly relocated, Murray House literally had a murky history to exorcise. The building was first an officer’s quarter, then occupied by the Japanese and used as a command centre in the Second World War. Finally, it became an office building, and the government employees believed ghosts haunted the house. It was the detention centre and execution area for some Chinese citizens in the war, after all. The building was exorcised twice.

On May 19, 1963, about 90 Buddhist monks pacified the spirits in a 10-hour ritual complete with tablet burning. The building was exorcised once more in 1974 in a televised ceremony. Today there are few reports of ghosts, but you never know…

All image credit: Cheryl Chan /Flickr

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Hungry Ghost Festival a public holiday in Singapore? – Hungry Ghost Festival is not a public holiday in Singapore. What is the purpose of the Hungry Ghost Festival?

– The Hungry Ghost Festival commemorates the legend of Mu Lian and his loyalty to his mother. This is also where the practice of making offerrings and praying to deceased ancestors is believed to have come from.

When is the Hungry Ghost Festival?

– The Hungry Ghost Festival falls on the 15th (or 14th in some places) night of the seventh month in Chinese calendars.

Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore: Origins, superstitions, and supernatural stories

Sakina Abidi

History graduate and poetry person, Sakina is a recovering journalism student currently in editorial. You are most likely to find her hunting down new eats on Instagram (halal please!) and lusting after Korean skincare drops.

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    Chinese lotus lanterns floating in a river The Ghost Festival is held during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon, the new season, the fall harvest, the peak of Buddhist monastic asceticism, the rebirth of ancestors, and the assembly of the local community. [14]

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    The following chart shows the exact date for the festival and the ghost month in 2022, 2023 and 2024: Customs In China, people think on the Ghost month, the gate of hell will open to allow the ghosts and spirits go back to the living world.

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    During the Ghost Month, it is believed that spirits jailed in Hell get to roam the human realm for a month. For this year, the Ghost Month falls between 29th July to 26th August 2022. On the 15th night of the seventh month, Zhongyuan Jie, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, Buddhist and Taoist families will burn paper effigies and prepare ...

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    The Hungry Ghost Festival, or Zhong Yuan Jie, which marks the peak of the Ghost Month, falls on 12 August this year, with believers burning incense and joss paper, as well as paper replicas. Those in the heartlands will often witness colourful getai stage shows set up, with loud music, but remember to avoid sitting in the first "empty" row.

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  15. What to avoid during Hungry Ghost Festival

    Particularly on the 15th night of the seventh month, on 30 August, when Ghost Day hits. It's a custom of Chinese culture that happens during the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Observed by Taoists and Buddhists in Singapore, it's one of the most revered events of the year with celebrations and rituals. Btw, it's nothing like Halloween.

  16. Hungry Ghost Festival 2023 in Singapore

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