Asia has rich in tradition, and it doesn’t just cover the living, but also for the deceased. In many parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, it is believed that ghosts are said to roam the earth in August, the seventh month of the lunar calendar.
While the West celebrate Halloween too, but the entire month devoted to appeasing ghosts is a much longer affair. It is believed that during this time, spirits visit their families, who in return anticipate them, and serve offerings such as fruit, meat and pastries.
Ghosts are thought to be ‘angry’ especially those who did not get proper burial or not treated well by their families. So pacifying them through the offerings are a reminder to honor filial piety
Among the first visible signs of this month-long ritual is the smell of burning paper, sometimes seen along roadside, with incense sticks candles and offerings of food placed in pavement or common areas of residential blocks.
So what do expats and newcomers need to know and need to do regarding this yearly local tradition?
Certain activities are said to bring misfortune during this time of the year, especially after dark. So play it safe and follow orders:
- Both children and adults should be home before dark and avoid late night outings during this period.
- Disturbing offerings left out for the spirits – don’t ever disturb these offerings found on pavements.
- Leaving clothes outside to dry at night. A ghost might try them on and leave behind its negative energy.
- Avoid swimming at night especially on dimly-lit areas. The ghost of a drowned person might pull you under the water.
- Don’t move to a new apartment during this period as it might bring bad luck.
- Don’t urinate on a tree, if you ever do that as a habit; it will offend the spirit living inside.
- Business better avoid staging important events — product launch, moving offices, etc.
- Never take photos at night, unless you wish to capture a spirit.
- Never leave external doors open at night. It is an invitation for ghosts to enter.
- Don’t get married or stage any occasion during this period – it’s believed it won’t have a happy ending.
- Don’t talk about ghosts during their special month because it may cause offence.
- Avoid turning around when someone pats you in the shoulder or calls your name at night as it might be a trick spirits do to possess you.
It’s not all bad about this ghost month. You can be lucky if you do the recommended things:
- Keep the ghosts from being hungry, by feeding them with offerings outside the home.
- Keep the lights turned on at home, and on balconies or other outside areas as ghosts lurk in the shadows.
- Sprinkle rock salt on the floor outside your front door to keep spirits at bay.
- Visit temples or churches to pray for the deceased.
- Although this month might generally be considered spooky, it’s essentially a month of worship, respect and compassion. Prayers are
- usually accompanied with burning of joss sticks, paper money and offering gifts to the dead
- Staunch believers will eat vegetarian meals and place extra portion for deceased family members.
Such things may be new to expats and other newcomers not used to the practice back home. But over thousands of years, this practice has been done earnestly among believers, as a way to pay homage and honoring ancestors who have moved on from this life. Therefore, while it is not expected that all will follow the above recommendations, it’s important to convey respect towards this age old practice.