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Ghost Month and Ghost Festival

Mandarin for Ghost Month

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The seventh lunar month in the traditional Chinese calendar is called Ghost Month. On the first day of the month, the Gates of Hell are sprung open to allow ghosts and spirits access to the world of the living. The spirits spend the month visiting their families, feasting and and looking for victims.

There are three important days during Ghost Month. On the first day of the month, ancestors are honored with offerings of food, incense, and ghost money - paper money which is burned so the spirits can use it. These offerings are done at makeshift altars set up on sidewalks outside the house.

Almost as important as honoring your ancestors, offerings to ghosts without families must be made, so that they will not cause you any harm. Ghost month is the most dangerous time of the year, and malevolent spirits are on the look out to capture souls.

The Inauspicious Month

This makes ghost month a bad time to do activities such as evening strolls, traveling, moving house, or starting a new business. Many people avoid swimming during ghost month, since there are many spirits in the water which can try to drown you.

The 15th day of the month is Ghost Festival, sometimes called Hungry Ghost Festival. The Mandarin name of this festival is zhōng yuán jié (中元節 / 中元节). This is the day when the spirits are in high gear. It’s important to give them a sumptuous feast, to please them and to bring luck to the family. Taoists and Buddhists perform ceremonies on this day to ease the sufferings of the deceased.

The last day of the month is when the Gates of Hell are closed up again. The chants of Taoist priests inform the spirits that it’s time to return, and as they are confined once again to the underworld, they let out an unearthly wail of lament.

Dates for Ghost Month and Ghost Festival

2011 - Ghost Month - July 31 to August 28

2011 - Ghost Festival - August 14

2012 - Ghost Month - August 17 to September 15

2012 - Ghost Festival - August 30

2013 - Ghost Month - August 7 to September 4

2013 - Ghost Festival - August 20

Mandarin Vocabulary for Ghost Month

English Pinyin Traditional Characters Simplified Characters
altar shén tán 神壇 神坛
ghost guǐ
vampire jiāng shī 殭屍 僵尸
ghost money zhǐ qián 紙錢 纸钱
incense xiāng
ghost month guǐ yuè 鬼月 鬼月
feast gōng pǐn 供品 供品
offerings jì bài 祭拜 祭拜
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