The Zhongyuan Festival, also known as Ullambana Festival among Buddhists, falls on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, on Aug 17 this year.
Since ancient times, the Chinese have believed that the gates of hell open on that day and so people hold all kinds of activities to honor the ghosts. Therefore, the festival is also called the Ghost Festival.
Here are the folk customs of the China’s Ghost Festival.
Floating water lantern
Among the various folk customs of the Zhongyuan Festival, the floating water lantern is the grandest. The water lantern, also called lotus lantern, is usually made by pasting paper into a lotus shape. Then a lamp or candle is placed inside. On the night of the Zhongyuan Festival, lanterns are released into rivers or lakes.
People think that they should hang out lanterns to celebrate the ghosts. As human beings and land belong to yang, which means positive, so ghosts and water belong to yin, which means negative. The dark and mysterious underworld usually reminds people of the gloomy sepulchral hell where the ghosts suffer. So lanterns are floated on the waters.
Burning paper "money"
It is said in folklore that departed ancestors will be released by Yama for half a month. As a result, there is a custom to welcome ancestors at the beginning of July and send them off on July 15. When sending off the spirits, people will burn a lot of paper "money" so ancestors can spend it in the nether world. They will also insert some paper "money" into an envelope on which the user's name has been written. The envelope will be burnt for sacrifice.
A popular folk custom during the festival requires that a grandfather or uncle on the mother's side send a live goat to his grandson or nephew. Legend has it that the custom has something to do with the myth of Chenxiang Saving His Mother from the Mountain. The custom has gradually evolved into sending a pair of flour goats.
The festival is quite popular among Chinese and is celebrated not only on the Chinese mainland, but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Besides, it has spread to and is celebrated in Thailand, Japan, North Korea, Singapore and Malaysia.
According to ancient Chinese customs, there are some activities that should be avoided during the Zhongyuan Festival to stop the evil spirits from hurting you.
1. Don't hang wet clothes at night
Hanging wet clothes at night will easily attract spirits and is like setting a trap to capture ghosts.
2. Don't sleep with your hair untied
During the Zhongyuan Festival, there are ghosts hanging around everywhere, and if your hair is disheveled and loose, the ghosts will consider you as one of their league members.
3. Don't celebrate birthday at night.
If you celebrate birthday at night, you may encounter "something else" singing the birthday song with you. So it's better to celebrate at daytime.
4. Don't take photos at night
You may capture spirits when taking photos at night, and then they will follow you home.
5. Don't say the word "ghost"
The ghosts are everywhere during Zhongyuan Festival, so it's better and safer to not say the word "ghost", and also don't say other improper words, in case they decide to take revenge on you.
6. Don't step on paper ghost money
The paper ghost money is sacrifice for spirits, and ghosts are always gathering around the money. If you step on their money, they will be angry and may harm you.
7. Don't pat other people's shoulders
The folklore believes that there are three bunches of fire on each person, head and two shoulders, to avoid evil spirits. If you pat other people's shoulder, you may make their protective fire die out.
8. Be careful in turning your head
If you are walking in forest or a sparsely populated area, and if you hear someone calling you, don't turn around, you may see something scary.
During the Ghost Festival, just go home early and try to have a vegetarian diet.