Have You Ever Been To The Penang Hungry Ghost Festival?
The Penang Hungry Ghost Festival takes place on the seventh moon in the Chinese calendar (August 15th) every year. In the Chinese belief, during this time the gates of Hell crack open and the hungry souls go out for an entire month looking to create trouble and misery for the living.
This festival is the Asian version of Halloween only for them it lasts an entire month. During this month, there are many superstitions that keep the story going. For example, infants and toddlers are not to be taken out under any circumstances and having a wedding or simply moving is considered to bring bad luck. Beach walks are forbidden because many spirits find their refuge there grabbing innocent people and taking them in the water.
For Buddhist people in Penang, this festival has a deeper meaning, signifying the connection between life and death, body and soul. Chinese in Penang believe that they must feast the hungry ghosts with plenty of food so they have good fortune and better luck in the future. Every year, people provide food and entertainment for the wondering spirits in altars. During the Penang Hungry Ghost Festival, there are set up stages where entertainment will be provided. Entertainment means puppet shows and singers who sing their music to entertain the spirits. If you’ve never been to such a show before you must know that the first place is always reserved for the spirits. That’s why you don’t have to be surprised when you’ll see the first row free.
All sort of foods are left outside people’s gates so the spirits can take the food and not enter the house of the one making the offer. There are lanterns lit so they can guide the spirit’s path to the food. You can also see shrines where people go and pray for people who died in their family.
Also, you should not be surprised that people are more superstitious during this period. Chinese people are strongly connected with their religion and customs and even if they don’t believe that ghosts actually patrol their town, they do believe that bad things can happen.
The 30th day of the seventh moon is the day when the gates of Hell are shut once again and all the spirits leave the world of the living for another year. Everything that is left from the festival is burnt in a giant fire and then everything comes back to normal.
The Penang people and many others from Asian countries use this festival to fulfill their duties towards the deaths. Still, this festival is a very colorful celebration and it’s really interesting to be a tourist during this period. You learn a lot more about their culture and beliefs than you would have in any other period of the year. You also learn local stories about the spirits and how it all began. Of course that the story is different for a group of people to another but the plot is the same. You should consider yourself lucky if you manage to get in Penang during the festival. It’s a magical time to be there.