Ghost Month
NOTES FROM THE EDITOR - Singkit (The Philippine Star) - August 12, 2018 - 12:00am

Yesterday was the start of the seventh month of the lunar year. In China it is the hottest month of the year; my grandma used to refer to it as chit ge he, or the fires of the seventh month.

It is also Ghost Month, a Chinese tradition that has become popular beyond China’s shores, including over here. On the first day of the month the gate of the underworld is opened and all the ghosts are let out to roam the earth. Aside from one’s own departed ancestors, restless spirits flit about, making it necessary for mortals to appease them, on top of showing reverence for one’s ancestors. And the best way to appease them is, of course, to feed them.

When I was a kid, long before it became a fad hereabouts, some of my relatives made offerings on the first (when the gate is opened), 15th (the Hungry Ghost Festival when everything gets into high gear; this year it’s on Aug. 25) and last (or 30th, when the ghosts are corralled back to the underworld and the gate is closed) days of the month; offerings included food, incense and spirit money. There were other rituals which I have forgotten, but as a kid all these seemed to be curious and in a way quite fun, having nothing to do with “real” ghosts or muumuu like kapres, aswangs or manananggals.

My grandma, who had converted to Christianity but did not quite let go of traditions she grew up with, did not make offerings but told our cook to add an extra pinch of salt to the food since the ghosts take first dig at what is set out on the table, thus the taste is lessened by the time we get to the food.

The old belief was that some of the spirits could be malevolent, others simply playful and mischievous, so it’s best not to leave yourself open to their misadventures – don’t whistle, don’t be noisy when you’re out at night, keep kids indoors after nightfall, old folks should stay at home too.

The idea is to stay below the radar so you don’t attract the attention of the ghosts; thus during Ghost Month, nobody gets engaged or married, you don’t open a business or move to a new house, you don’t buy a new car or maybe even a new phone. You should be careful of strangers who may approach and talk to you, and be careful too what you say; you don’t want to inadvertently offend anyone, human or otherwise.

It could all just be superstition and, much like Halloween, another occasion for ritual and festivity (Hong Kong and Singapore have institutionalized the Hungry Ghost Festival, or zhong yuan jie, as part of their tourism calendars). When the ghosts go back home on Sept. 9 after their month-long bakasyon, the parties and the weddings and inaugurations can resume, as we get ready for the eighth lunar month and the much-anticipated Mid-Autumn Festival, which is another story.

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