While many people in Singapore are fasting this month for Ramadan, the city’s ghosts are feasting! The seventh lunar month is the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore and this year it falls from July 31 to August 28. But Hungry Ghost month isn’t really a celebration – it’s a downright spooky affair.
Chinese Taoists believe that during this month the gates of Hell open up and spirits are able to mix with the living. While some of these spirits are welcomed, like those of deceased relatives, other ghosts may have malicious intentions. The seventh month is considered a very unlucky time to get married or move house and superstitious people try to be home before dark. Beaches and swimming pools are also to be avoided – an evil ghost may cause you to drown!
To honour the spirits of their ancestors as well as appease any angry ghosts, people leave offerings of food and burn paper replicas of worldly goods like cars, houses, and iPhones (seriously). “Hell money”, fake bills in huge denominations with lucky serial numbers, is burnt is such vast quantities that burning bins have to be set up to contain the blaze.
Another unique offering during Hungry Ghost Month is getai shows. These song and dance performances, often by scantily-clad women, are entertainment for the spirits and the local residents who come for dinners, drinks, and auctions. They’re so loud they usually attract the whole neighbourhood, but the front row of seats is always left empty for the ghosts.
Rather than being one central place to experience the festival, Hungry Ghost month events can be seen around Chinatown and in residential areas across the island. A list of upcoming getai performances can be found online and hosting neighbourhoods like Geylang and Toa Payoh are easily reached by public transportation.
By Tanya Procyshyn
Last updated on 15th November, 2014.