Keep serious! Taiwanese Ghost Festival is not as delightful as Halloween

By Yu-Ting

taiwan ghost_01

In Western countries, Halloween might be one of the most exciting holidays. Dressing up in costumes, asking trick-or-treat on Halloween is probably one of children’s most delightful memories. However, in parts of Asia, including Taiwan, we take the Ghost Festival a lot more seriously.

During the Ghost Festival, people pay tribute to ghosts. They prepare food and drink offerings to keep them safe from ghost harassment. Marriages, moving houses, business transactions and other important events are viewed as taboos during this month. It is believed that the ghosts would create obstacles and then make things go wrong. In many parts of Asia, Ghost Festival is a holiday full of taboos and restrictions instead of happiness.

When is the Ghost Festival?

Compared to Halloween lasting a single night, Ghost Festival is a month long event that takes place during the seventh month of the lunar calendar. People believe that spirits are said to roam the earth for one month vacation. This year, the Ghost Festival started August 14th, and ended on September 12th.

 What are its origins?

Views about how the Ghost Festival became as we know it is divided, but its roots date back more than 2,000 years, and is related to religion and life style. In ancient China, people offered newly harvested grain to ancestors on this day as thanks for good harvest, which also coincides with the Buddhist Ullambana Festival and the Taoist Ghost Festival.

In Buddhism and Taoism, the festival is associated with Mulian, a chief disciple of Buddha. The story goes that his mother did a lot of bad things and was reborn in the hungry ghost realm of hell. Feeling sad for his mother, who suffers from starvation as punishment, Mulian held a ceremony on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month to appease all the spirits from under the earth, including his mother. Meanwhile, this practice allowed his mother’s spirit to be reborn into a noble family. Ever since then, Buddhists and Taoists carry out such rites on this day to free the deceased from suffering.

What to avoid during the ghost month?

For the Taiwanese, the Ghost Month is an ominous time. Many activities are said to bring misfortune during this time, especially after dark. Among the taboos are weddings (or it won’t be a happy ending), swimming (or ghosts in the water may drown you), making big business decision, such as investment (or it fails in the end), and moving in to a new home (or ghosts will live with you), whistling (or it could attract ghosts to you), etc.

Over all, we avoid the word “ghost” and say “good brothers” instead to protect ourselves from evil demons. On the other hand, feasts are held, not only in families but at temples all over Taiwan, to feed and entertaining the wandering ghosts. People believe that if the ghosts and ghouls aren’t kept pleasant, they will do some eerie things to the living.

Don’t provoke the Ghost! The Funny experience from my poor friend, Jay

During the ghost month, we seldom go outside after dark. However, my neighbor, Jay, who did not believe in ghosts, always laughed at us, “How could you be so superstitious! We’re in the 21 century.” or “We’re educated people who have definitely never seen a ghost.” Therefore, he didn’t mind any taboo in Ghost month.

However, he changed his faith about ghost one evening during the ghost month. I still remember vividly. It was a rainy night, and he had to pick up his sister, Jane, who took the overnight train. Just on his way to train station, the rain was so heavy that he could barely see what was going on outside. Suddenly, he saw some white stuff move, as if it was floating in the air, and following him. At that moment, his car couldn’t move forward and all he could do was back up. He was so terrified that he pulled over the car then ran to home immediately. I have no idea how many miles he ran before knocking on my door. I cannot forget how frightened he was as if he had seen a ghost when he knocked the door to ask my brother for help. Well, I snickered behind the door and texted to my brother,” SEE! BETTER BELIEVE THAN NOT!!!”

The next day, lots of people were talking about what happened to him last night. The majority guessed that the white roaming stuff might be the blanket and the howling winds made the blanket look like following him. In Taiwan, we dry clothes in the sun instead of using the dryer. As for his car, in fact, his car had no trouble. But why couldn’t he move the car forward last night? Some people thought that he was too nervous to change the wrong gear, while others believed that it might be the lesson for him to never and never provoke the ghost. But who knows? People hold different views. Anyway, in the end, he went to a Chinese temple, burned some incense and asked for protection on the next day. The most important thing is, he never ever laughed at how we take the ghost month so seriously.

The following sources were used in this article:
Wikipedia, Ghost Festival, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Festival
Taiwanese Secrets, Ghost Festival in Taiwan: Understand what the Chinese Ghost Festival (aka:
Ghost Month) is all about!