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On the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar calendar (Month of August), Chinese folk belief has it that the gates of hell will open to release dead souls who are allowed to roam the streets of the living for one month.

The Chinese believe that throughout this month,

children and young toddlers alike should be kept from going out of the house, lest unrested souls lure them to the kingdom of the dead.

Visiting the beach for example, would not be allowed, since many tragedies have taken place in the waters, and evil ghosts may be eager to take more lives. Having a wedding or moving house during this period is considered bad luck and should never be practiced - and God forbid that one should die during this month!

Another aspect of this celebration among the Chinese community everywhere, would be the stage operas and other musical performances, said to provide entertainment for these dead souls. Such is the grandeur of the occasion and regarded closely by many.

Many Chinese hold the Hungry Ghosts festivities with a mighty significance, and are most superstitious during this period.

The 30th day of the seventh moon is the last day of the festival. At midnight, the ghosts return to Hades and the gates are shut after them.

Paper deities, money, and other goodies are burnt in a giant bonfire as a final gift. With a sense of relief and ease, the Chinese will resume their daily activities after this period, faced with the confidence that they have fulfilled their duties towards their dead ancestors.

Whether a belief or legend, the festival of the Hungry Ghosts is celebrated in grand scale by the Chinese in Penang. During this period, which is especially prominent during the 14th and 15th day of the Chinese seventh month, devotees will prepare sumptuous food to serve to these dead souls.

The Chinese will ‘invite’ their dead relatives for a meal and burn joss sticks, hell money in surprisingly large denominations, daily essentials of paper clothes, shoes, TV, radio, and even cars and other luxuries. Such practice is done to ensure that their present generation and generations to come would be blessed, and free from any imminent harm.

Paper effigy of The God of Hades dwarfs a couple of worshippers.

Photography
 by Chin Mun Woh

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