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hungry ghost
Photograph: Daniel Chong Kah Fui/Flickr

The guide to Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore

Take heed of these rules during this spooky month

Delfina Utomo
Written by
Delfina Utomo
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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 and lasts for fourteen days. 

What happens during Hungry Ghost Festival?

Hungry Ghost Festival is not to be confused with the other festival for the dead, Qingming Festival, where descendants clean the graves of their dead ancestors and place offerings on the tombs. It is believed that the dead return to 'visit' the living for the fourteen days of the festival – and can get mischievous if they are not pleased.

During this period, various offerings are made – from hell money to other material luxuries like flashy cars, fancy jewellery, lavish mansions and even the latest iPhone (in paper form of course). 

To keep our otherworldly guests entertained, getai shows are also held all around the island, especially in the heartland areas. Some shows include song and dance performances, Chinese opera, comedy and more. 

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

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Watch where you step
Photograph: Jnzl/Flickr

Watch where you step

While there are designated areas for burning hell notes and setting up the offerings, do watch where you are walking. Sometimes there might be joss sticks or food offerings places in corners, 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. 

Don't sit at the first row of the getai show
Photograph: Jieyi See/Unsplash

Don't sit at the first row of the getai show

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

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Don't go swimming at night
Photograph: Jeremy Kwok/Unsplash

Don't go swimming at night

Water bodies, especially the sea attract spirits – and it is believed that spirits who have drowned would be seeking for companionship in the afterlife by pulling the legs of unsuspecting swimmers. 

 

Stranger danger
Photograph: Anh Tuan To/Unsplash

Stranger danger

Hear you 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.

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Superstitious? Carry jade with you
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Superstitious? Carry jade with you

Jade is not only good for jewellery and aesthetic purposes but it can be used as a protective and good luck charm for things you cannot 'see'. No jade? Carry around a healing crystal used for protection instead like smoky quartz, tourmaline, obsidian or tiger's eye.

Don't stay out late
Photograph: Joshua Tsu/Unsplash

Don't 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 celebrating when we can finally dine out till late, 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. 

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Celebrate another time
Photograph: Shawn Pang/Unsplash

Celebrate another time

Thinking of getting married or moving house during the Hungry Ghost Festival? Time to change your dates. Doing something auspicious in an inauspicious time would invite unwanted guests and bad luck. 

Leave that moth or insect alone
Photograph: Jiachen Lin/Unsplash

Leave that moth or insect alone

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 not to squash it or kill it. It's just a relative paying a visit. 

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