The hungry ghost festival in Singapore stretches from 19 August to 16 September 2020 with Ghost Day being on 2 September. The festival is celebrated by Taoists and Buddhists in Singapore and it is a time when the spirits of the underworld are released from their torment in hell. They then roam the Earth to find food, entertainment and any unsuspecting victims to bring down to hell for a chance at reincarnation. As such, worshippers burn many offerings during the 7th month to appease the appetite of the hungry ghosts.
Other than burning offerings, there are other superstitions and beliefs that all locals abide by during the festival period to avoid unnecessary attention from the ghosts. But in case you forget or are new to the culture, here’s a quick list of things not to do during the hungry ghost festival in Singapore.
1. Don’t stay out late
It’s believed that ghosts roam the streets after sunset. That is why it’s advised that people avoid night time activities during the hungry ghost festival in Singapore. But if you HAVE to stay out late, invite a friend for company. Ghosts are said to prey on unsuspecting victims who travel alone at night.
2. Don’t open an umbrella indoors or pick up any stray umbrellasGet yourself a personal umbrella for when it rains cats and dogs during the hungry ghost festival. Why? Because it’s believed that wandering ghosts may ‘seek shelter’ in any unused umbrellas. Don’t even open an umbrella indoors! You don’t want to release a ghost in your home!
3. Don’t turn your head if someone taps your shoulder or calls your nameA belief in Chinese culture is that everyone has a ‘spiritual protective flame’ on each shoulder. However, the flames are extinguished whenever you turn your head around. That is why evil ghosts are said to trick humans by calling their name or ‘tapping’ their shoulder when they are alone. Naturally, anyone will turn their head – making them vulnerable to hungry ghosts.
4. Avoid wearing redYou should definitely wear a red and white outfit for national day but stow it at the back of the cupboard when the 7th month starts. The hungry ghosts are said to be attracted to the colour red! Unless you want to be a prime target for mischievous ghosts, avoid red clothing during this time.
5. Don’t take night selfies
Never take a night selfie alone during the 7th month period! If you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough, you might find an extra ‘person’ in your selfies! [heh] Keep the selfies to the day time — at least till the hungry ghost festival in Singapore is over.
6. NEVER sit in the front row of Getai concertsGetai shows are organised around various neighbourhoods in Singapore during the hungry ghost festival. It’s a concert that is meant to entertain wandering ghosts so they don’t get up to any mischief. Hence, the front row is usually reserved for ghosts and are kept empty.
7. Avoid swimming, especially at nightOne of the things not to do during the hungry ghost festival is to go swimming or engage in any water sports in Singapore. If you must, try to go in the daytime. There is a belief that ghosts linger in the water and they may try to drown you and for a chance at reincarnation.
8. Don’t sing at night along the streets
Ghosts don’t have to attend Getai performances if you start singing on the way home. That’s right, wandering ghosts may be attracted to your singing or whistling while you’re alone! Pro tip: If the music bug hits you, just plug in a set of earphones and take a silent stroll.
9. Don’t hang wind chimes at home
You should take down any wind chimes around the home while the hungry ghost festival in Singapore is ongoing. The high-pitched sounds of the wind chimes are said to attract the attention of wandering ghosts. Unless you want some ‘special attention’, it’s best to put up other types of home decor for the time being.
10. Don’t kill any insects
There is a Chinese belief that certain insects represent the presence of our departed loved ones. Killing them might chase them away or even hurt them. If you find any unusual insects or moths, leave them alone or try to catch them for a safe release. It’s a good way to appease the spirit that may be present.
11. Don’t pick coins up from the streets
It may be tempting to pick up coins you may find lying on the sidewalk. But there’s a high chance that these coins already belong to a spirit and you could irk them if you picked them up. Worse still, the malevolent spirits often bait humans with coins in an effort to possess them. Eeks! You don’t want to fall for their nasty tricks!
12. Don’t stand under trees
Standing under trees and especially at night, is the most commonly reminded of things not to do during the hungry ghost festival. Tales about ghosts residing in treetops hold some weight, unfortunately. So if you’ve found yourself waiting for a Grab under the trees, just shuffle along a bit and pray for the best.
13. Watch your step!
Joss sticks and food offerings are common sightings during the hungry ghost festival in Singapore. You may come across them tucked onto the corner of walk paths in your home estate. Watch where you’re going and avoid touching or stepping onto any of them lest you offend the spirits. If you do, just say a quick apology and be on your way.
Appease and not upset spirits during the hungry ghost festival in Singapore
Take a note of the things not to do during the hungry ghost festival and you’ll be spared of the spirits’ wrath. If you’re partaking in this festival, be sure to get all your offerings like joss sticks and joss paper in advance. Otherwise, you can cuddle up with good horror films too — those that’ll get your skin tingling during the whole 7th month season.
This article was updated on 27 July 2020. Additional research done by Rajveen Kaur Aujla.