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Be prepared with some insight tips on how to go about this traditional festival following the Taoist belief in the afterlife. The Hungry Ghost Festival, also known as “Zhong Yuan Jie”, traditionally falls on the seventh lunar month and this year it is on August 17. During this time Chinese communities believe that the gate of hell opens up, freeing the spirits of the dead to roam around the world of the living. 

During this festival, you will get to see the set-up of song stages known as “getai” around your neighbourhood. There will be performances of Chinese opera (phor thor), puppet shows, karaoke and dances for both the living and the dead. At the same time, Chinese communities will offer meals, burn joss stick, and “hell money”- fake paper money, assorted paper versions of TVs, cars, furniture technology gadgets and many more items to their ancestors. Food offerings are commonly left along roadsides, street corners and outside houses to prevent hungry ghosts from entering residences. 

Here are some taboos to avoid during the Hungry Ghost Festival:

  • Do not stay out too late and try to be home by 11pm – it is believed that spirits grow stronger at night, especially after the sunset.
  • Do not respond when you hear your name being called late at night - spirits may be calling out to you for help, and if you respond then you must help.
  • Do not step on anything that was used for prayer or any place that had prayer before – spirits wouldn’t like people to step on their foods or belongings. 
  • Never joke about a procession or event - there are many grapevine stories of people not from the religion who made fun of these practices and were punished by the spirits.
  • Do not take pictures of the ceremonies unless allowed - photographs seems to be able to capture spirits.
  • Do not sit on the front rows of any “getai” performance or opera performance - that’s reserved for the spirits.
  • If you are burning incense paper do not stir the pot to mess up the ashes - you might mess up the transfer of items to the netherworld. 
  • Do not place your child at the offering altar as the hungry ghosts might mistakenly devour the child thinking that he/she is an offering.
  • Travel plans that include boats and planes are best postponed to avoid any mishaps caused by mischievous ghosts. Also visits to the jungle or deserted areas, or standing under a tree or bus stop during night time is better avoided, you might just invite a wandering spirit home.
  • Do not wear red or black - you could attract a hungry spirit if you wear anything in red or black or even paint your nail in black– it is thought that the dead will think you are one of them if you have black nails. Avoid whistling at night, this can also attract the ghosts.
 
Taboos to avoid during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia

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