Chinese Culture for Kids Series: Hungry Ghost Festival and the Ghost Month Meet Halloween and Day of the Dead

Dia de Muertos, fall seasonal bakery items in Ecuador. photo by Miss Panda Chinese

Bread with various fillings is called “guaguas de pan.”  Dia de Muertos, fall seasonal bakery items in Ecuador. Photo credit: Miss Panda Chinese

The seventh month on the lunar calendar is “ghost month” and it has many taboos such as kids should not swim in the river, wedding should not be held during this time, and moving or buying a house is prohibited.  Even though many young Chinese do not follow these tradition any more there are still many Chinese people do.  With the Halloween getting popular in Chinese culture, the Ghost month now seems more fun for kids than scary for children years ago.

The 15th day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar is the “Hungry Ghost Festival” – zhōng yuán jié 中元節 | 中元节 and it falls on September 5 this year (2017).  Let’s take a look at this festival and comparing it with some similar festivals that are celebrated in other countries.

Hungry Ghost Festival-  zhōng yuán jié 中元節 | 中元节                   image courtesy of MSN

 

Lunar July Ghost Month (Chinese): 7th Lunar Month 農曆七月

Chinese people have during the 7th month on the lunar calendar is called 農曆七月 (in traditional Chinese) |农历七月 (in simplified Chinese) and it reads as “Nóng lì qī yuè” and it literally means “lunar July.” The whole month of July on the lunar calendar is known as 鬼月 “Guǐ yuè” and it means “ghost month.” Ghost month is known in China and Taiwan and especially for Taoism followers and Buddhism followers.

News Report: First day of 7th Lunar Month – Opening of “Ghost Gate” ceremony at Chéng Huáng Temple. Audio in Mandarin Chinese. Subtitle: Traditional Chinese.

Hungry Ghost Festival (Chinese): 15th day of the 7th Lunar Month

The 15th day of the lunar July month is 中元節-“zhōng yuán jié” also is called 盂蘭()-“yú lán (pén) jié”, and this is “Hungry Ghost Festival”in Hong Kong. This day origins from the story of one of Buddha’s disciples, Maudgalyayana and his mother. It is a story connecting to filial piety. There are many taboos and tradition practices for this day and the whole 7th months of July on the Lunar calendar.  In recent years, I have seen the skull (calaca) print from the Day of the Dead on limited advertisement in Taiwan.  Hungry Ghost Festival is well-known in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong tourism bureau does publicity for this festival annually.

News feature: Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong. Audio in English and Cantonese.

Hong Kong’s Hungry Ghosts Festival (BBC) from Hélène Franchineau on Vimeo

 

Qī Míng Jié (Chinese): April 5

“Qīng Mīng Jié” – 清明節 is observed and is a public holiday in China, Taiwan, and Chinese communites.  The most important thing for this day is tomb-sweeping 掃墓.  It is the day to commemorate and honor the family ancestors and passing family members. People visit the tombs, clean up, and burn paper offerings.  It is also a tradition to bring food, fruit, and flowers to the tomb that families are visiting for the passing family members to “enjoy”.  It is on April 5 every year.  This is similar to Dia of Los Muertos in Mexico and Hispanic culture.

Video: Story and history of Qíng Míng Jié in Chinese. Audio in Mandarin Chinese.  Subtitle: Simplified Chinese.

Halloween (United States): October 31 萬聖節

Pumpkins!  Pumpkins!  They are in the supermarket, in the farmers’ market, and in front of the door steps of the neighbors.  With all the young kids trying out their customs in the stores and all the Halloween decoration filled in the neighborhood we know it is time to buy bags of candies for the excitement of Halloween!  Halloween started as the festival of Samhain and it was part of the ancient Celtic religion in Britain and some parts of Europe.  Long ago, people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.  Later, the eve before All Saints’ Day, November 1 became All Hallows’ Eve and later known as Halloween.  Halloween took off with Irish immigrants in America.  Pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating gained popularity during 20th century.  Now, Halloween is a community- and kids-friendly day.  Halloween is 萬聖節|万圣节Wàn shèng jié.

 

Day of the Dead/Dia de Los Muertos (Mexico and Hispanic culture): November 1 – November 2.

Dia de Los Muertos is a Mexican holiday.  It is celebrated in Mexico and many Hispanic communities.   This is the time to honor their deceased loved ones.  You will see beautiful home alters decorated with flowers such as marigolds, candles, fruit, food, and more.  Family and friends have reunion at this time of the year to pray for family members who have passed and help support their spiritual journey.  It is similar to Qíng Míng Jíe in Chinese culture.

miss-panda-chinese-dia-de-muertos-in-qutio-ecuador

Bakery goods for Dia de Los Muertos in Quite, Ecuador. Photo by ©2014 Miss Panda Chinese.

Do you know any other culture has a similar festival like Halloween?  What is the one similarity you have noticed between all the festivals we mentioned in this post?  What is the one difference?  Learning about world culture helps us to respect each other and understand that we are similar and different at the same time.  I hope enjoy this post and you share this with your friends and teacher colleagues.

 

 Extended Learning Resource Links

Day of the Dead Around the World by Frances at Multicultural Kid Blogs

Day of the Dead – Brief History of Dia de Muertos by MommyMaestra

Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong

Hungry Ghost Festival with key phrases in Chinese and English TheChairmansBao

Video: Lunar July Ghost Month origin. Audio options:  English or Chinese.

Video: Qíng Míng Festival in China. Audio in English.

Qíng Míng Jíe by ETSpeaksFromHome

Memory Day Lantern Floating Ceremony in Hawaii.

 

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More in the Chinese Culture for Kids Series:

Chinese Lunar New Year 春節|春节

Lantern Festival 元宵節| 元宵节

Dragon Boat Festival 端午節 | 端午节

Chinese Valentine’s Day 七夕

Hungry Ghost Festival 中元節 |中元节

Moon Festival 中秋節 |中秋节

Qing Ming Festival 清明節 |清明节

Winter Solstice 冬至 |冬至

 




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4 Comments
  1. Thank you for this lovely post. In India we have ‘sharad’ these are days when we remember are dead ones and feed food to priests and crows!! We pray for the peace of their soul

    • Thank you for sharing the Indian “sharad” with us. I will add it to the post for world culture comparison.

    • Thank you for sharing ‘sharad’ with us. It seems similar to ‘Qing Ming’ festival. It is wonderful to learn different cultures have similar tradition. Little stories behind cultural festivals are a part of global education that helps children to develop intercultural understanding. Thank you for sharing!

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