Among the very many unusual cultural traditions you get to marvel at in Southeast Asia, the Ghost Festival is by far the most interesting.
The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in several Asian countries. In Chinese culture, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month, in general, is regarded as the Ghost Month, in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm.
Many activities are held during Ghost Month. People prepare ritualistic food offerings, burn incense and joss paper (money for the dead) arranged in interesting shapes like pineapples, lotuses or garlands, and papier-mâché form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. These offering sometimes also have a modern twist in the shape of mobile phones, luxury cars, and even iPads.
When it comes to food, no one can quite master the elaborate meals that are plated up by the Chinese on Ghost Day. Often vegetarian, the meals are served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living. Chinese cuisine and fusion cuisine steal the show on this festival.
Public gatherings are a time of great cheer, especially during events like the Moon festival and Lantern Festival. In some East Asian countries, live performances are held and everyone is invited to attend them. The first row of seats is always left empty as this is where the ghosts are meant to sit. The shows are always put on at night and at high volumes as the sound is believed to attract and please the ghosts. The music is also enjoyed by younger folk who are in the audience.
For all its unique rituals, this festival is a celebration of one of the Confucian tenants of filial piety. Be sure to make it part of your very own special travel experience!
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