In the seventh lunar month, Singapore celebrates the festival that has its origins in Taoist belief. In Chinatown and the housing settlements throughout the island, the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts is celebrated with street theatre, feasting, colorful decorations and ritual offerings.
What Does the Hungry Ghosts Festival Mean?
In the seventh lunar month, the Gates of Hell are opened. All the spirits who have been denied access to Heaven are freed to roam the earth. The living must honor their ancestors and deceased loved ones, and placate any angry spirits who are wandering nearby.
The month-long Festival of the Hungry Ghosts is considered to be an unlucky time. People avoid buying property, getting engaged or getting married during these days. Even swimming is thought to be dangerous in case an angry ghost drowns you.
How do People Celebrate the Hungry Ghosts Festival?
On open spaces in the housing developments and in blocked-off streets in the city itself, huge red and white striped tents are erected. These become the centers for different types of street performances called getai. Singers and dancers, puppet shows and orchestras take the stage to entertain the people. Also performed in these venues are Chinese operas (wayang), with elaborate, colorful costumes and loud music.
Small altars are set up outside homes and businesses. Here offerings of food, such as oranges, pineapples, apples and bowls of rice, and bottles and cartons of drinks, are placed. If the hungry ghosts can feast outside the buildings they won’t come inside.
Grand dinners for extended families and sometimes even whole communities are held.
To ensure the ghosts have enough money and possessions for the afterlife, the living buy replicas of worldly goods that are made of paper. On pavements outside their shops, traders stack huge bundles of paper ‘hell’ money. This money is brightly coloured and patterned. It comes in very expensive denominations; you can buy stacks of $1 million bills.
Also for sale are packaged sets of everyday items and clothing, all made of paper. You can buy paper dentures, paper shirts, paper jewellery, large paper cars, even paper computers and paper iPads!
And what happens to all these paper items and ‘hell’ money? They are burnt, to give the ghosts good fortune in the afterlife. Large incinerator bins are set up all around the housing estates for people to burn their lucky papers. Sometimes people set fire to them in little piles on the pavements or on their outside altars.
Red and gold paper lanterns and banners decorate the temples. People go to say special prayers for their ancestors and to burn joss (incense) sticks.
At the end of the month, the hungry ghosts all go back to the underworld and the Gates of Hell slam shut for another year.
The people of Singapore then look forward to their next festival to be held in the eighth lunar month – the festival of lanterns and moon cakes.
Chinese New Year Calendar
The Chinese New Year calendar is a mix of both solar and lunar cycles and it is a centuries-old tradition to celebrate the Chinese New Year in a number of countries around the world from China to North America.
Origins of Chinese New Year Calendar
In ancient times in China when most people lived off the land as farmers, the most noticeable cycle was that of day and night. When people looked to the sky it appeared that the sun stayed more or less the same over time, while the moon was observed to have a cycle of fading and fullness. Eventually it was worked out that there was a rhythm to the moon’s cycle that spanned the course of 29.5 days.
Then when the sundial was invented, the winter/summer solstices and autumn/spring equinoxes were noticed, and together, these events took up 365.25 days.
To deal with the differences between the solar and lunar cycles, the Chinese put in an extra lunar month at certain intervals. Making up the Chinese calendar are 19 solar years in repeating cycles with the whole dived into 130 months made up of 30 days, 110 months made up of 29 days, and 7 months of miscellaneous days as needed.
Chinese Lunar Calendar
Sometimes called the Cycle of Cathay, the Chinese lunar calendar is made up of a cycle of 60 years which in turn are divided into five repetitions of twelve specific years. Each of these years is linked to an animal: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig. These 12 years are known as the Chinese Zodiac and each animal is associated with a number of characteristics that are associated with individuals whom are born in a given year.
When is the Chinese New Year?
When the sun enters Aquarius, it’s the first new moon after that is considered to be the start of the Chinese lunar year. The dates vary each year between January 21 and February 19 when looking at a Western calendar. So unlike the Western New Year celebrated every January 1, the Chinese New Year can fall on any day between or on the above mentioned dates. It ends on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month and is celebrated as the Lantern Festival under the full moon.
The Chinese New Year calendar is an ancient lunisolar system that still holds importance in society today, both in China and around the world. People celebrate the Chinese New Year and from East to West, many also know about the Chinese zodiac based on this calendar system.