China's Ghost Festival, a day to honor ancestors
China's Ghost Festival, called Zhongyuan Festival by Taoists and Ullambana Festival by Buddhists, falls on the 15th day of the 7th month on the Chinese lunar calendar, which falls on August 25 this year on the Gregorian calendar.
According to ancient tradition, on this day the gates of hell are said to open, and all the ghosts roam the earth and visit the living.
Over the past few thousand years, various folk customs have developed in relation to honoring ghosts and spirits, which can include the souls of ancestors, relatives, and friends.
Locals burn incense and paper on a riverbank in Liuzhou, Guangxin Province to honor the deceased on September 4, 2017. [File Photo: VCG]
Ancestor worship remains a key part of the festival.
Family members offer sacrifices to their deceased ancestors and relatives, preparing offerings of food and drink and burning incense. Many people also burn paper pictures of money along with things like paper villas, cars, clothes – even iPhones. The belief is that these paper-mache items can be used by the ghosts in the afterlife.
Devotees burn traditional Chinese paper statues during an event to mark the Ghost Festival in Hong Kong on Wednesday, August 22, 2018. [File Photo: VCG]
As well as paying respects to their own ancestors, people also pay respects to unknown wandering ghosts to avoid being harmed or cursed by them, or as a sign of compassion for these homeless souls.
There are some taboos associated with the festival. On that day, people are supposed to avoid swimming, and going for late-night strolls, in order to avoid being cursed by wandering ghosts.
A man prays during a ceremony held at a Buddhist temple to honor the Ullambana Festival, known as China's Ghost Festival, in Beijing on Friday, August 17, 2018. [File Photo: VCG]
The festival remains a religious observance for both Buddhists and Taoists, who conduct special ceremonies to help relieve their ghosts from their suffering. They do this by preparing altars, chanting scriptures, and giving offerings.
But among all of the customs associated with the festival, perhaps the most magnificent is the floating of water lanterns.
People float water lanterns during celebrations for Zhongyuan Festival, also known as the Ghost Festival, in Nantong, Jiangsu Province on August 17, 2016. [File Photo: VCG]
Also called lotus lanterns, the lanterns are commonly made by pasting paper into a lotus shape, with a lamp or candle placed inside.
Water lanterns floating on a river during celebrations for Zhongyuan Festival, also known as the Ghost Festival, in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on August 16, 2016. [File Photo: VCG]
On the evening of the festival, people light their lanterns, and set them afloat in rivers, lakes, or on the sea. In traditional Chinese culture, lanterns floating on waters are said to be a guide to help lost ghosts and spirits.
Similar celebrations are held across Asia by people with similar traditions.
People float lanterns during celebrations for Obon Festival, which honors the spirits of deceased ancestors, at Eiheiji in Fukui, Japan on August 21, 2011. [File Photo: VCG]
In Japan, Obon Festival is widely regarded as the Japanese version of China's Ghost Festival. Activities held on the day include floating lanterns, and performing the traditional Japanese Bon-Odori dance.
Men dressed in yukata - the traditional summer kimono - perform the Bon-Odori dance during the Tamba-Sasayama Dekansho Festival on August 15, 2016 in Sasayama, Japan. [File Photo: VCG]
In Singapore, concerts are a prominent feature of the Ghost Festival. During these concerts, known as Getai in Mandarin, the front row is left empty for the ghosts.
A woman throws prayer paper onto a fire during celebrations for the Ghost Festival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 6, 2016. [File Photo: VCG]
And in Malaysia, people perform various kinds of folk dramas to please the ghosts, and share in the Getai culture that is similar to what is found in Singapore.