Roadside offerings line the streets; joss paper burns in iron buckets; the smell of incense fills the air—for the uninitiated, the Hungry Ghost Festival’s traditions are bizarre at best.
According to Chinese folklore, once a year the gates to the underworld open so the ghosts, with their insatiable appetite for food and incense, can feed to their hearts’ content.
Throughout the seventh lunar month (this year: August 3-21), Chinese people place food on the side of the road to feed not just their ancestors but also the stray ghosts.
Traditions have evolved with time—and the food offerings can range from a box of char siu rice to a burger with a can of beer complete with incense—to show respect. It’s advisable to leave the food undisturbed or you risk interrupting an invisible feast and angering the spirits.
But it’s not just food they’re after. Around the 15th day of the month, makeshift stages are built in open areas and traditional Chinese operas are put on for the ghosts’ entertainment. The earthly folks enjoy these shows just as much, but respectfully leave the front row seats empty for the VIPs.
Off stage, Taoist priests perform rituals and the living burn paper offerings—from trendy smartphones and designer handbags to luxury cars—to appease the dead.
See the gallery below for a glimpse into the traditions surrounding the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong.
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Photos: Tim Draper