The Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore this 2023 is coming up. 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. 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 list of Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts to keep in mind this 2023.
When is the Hungry Ghost Festival?
The Hungry Ghost Festival takes place during the 7th month on the lunar calendar. It’s also known as the Ghost Month, which begins on 16 August 2023 and lasts until 14 September 2023. That’s when the Gates of Hell close and all spirits are supposed to return. The 15th lunar day, which falls on 30 August 2023, is when spirits are exceptionally active. It’s during these three dates where people usually will make offerings.
What is the Hungry Ghost Festival about?
The Hungry Ghost Festival, also known as Zhongyuan Jie (中元节), is when the Gates of Hell are open. According to Chinese beliefs, this is when all ghosts, spirits and deceased ancestors will return to Earth in search of food, entertainment or just to visit their loved ones. It’s also during this period where you’ll see joss sticks, joss paper and food offerings laid out as forms of worship. There are also some things to note when it comes to Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts. So read on to find out more!
Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts in Singapore (2023)
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 as part of the things not to do during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore this 2023. But if you HAVE to stay out late, invite a friend for company. That’s because ghosts are said to prey on unsuspecting victims who travel alone at night.
2. Try to minimise going out in groups of three
It is said that when a group of three people walk in a straight line, or take photos together, the person in the centre would be exposed to the supernatural; be it receiving the ‘sight’ or just a cold chill running down his or her spine. So try to hang out in even numbers during this time of the year as you keep in mind these Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts.
3. Don’t open an umbrella indoors or pick up any stray umbrellas
Even when you’re attempting to dry your brolly, it’s best to have it dry outdoors and close it before entering the house. Why? Because it’s believed that wandering ghosts may ‘seek shelter’ in the umbrellas when they’re used in the open, and you don’t want to be bringing them home to your house! Therefore, as part of the Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts, it’s important to remember not to open umbrellas in your house.
4. Don’t turn your head if someone taps your shoulder or calls your name
A 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. And this could cause your yin and yang energy to go haywire. You’ll then be more vulnerable to the supernatural, which isn’t what we want during this month. Some believe that to counter this, you could turn your entire body instead. So try that out instead as you keep the Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts this 2023 in mind.
Friendly tip: Let’s try to not tap our friends’ shoulders as well!
5. Avoid wearing red
You should definitely wear a red and white outfit for National Day but stow it at the back of the cupboard when the 7th month comes around. The hungry ghosts are said to be attracted to the colour red! Unless you want to be a prime target for mischievous ghosts, wearing red clothes should definitely be part of your list of things not to do during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore this 2023.
6. Don’t tie the knot during this period
Although this is not necessarily something that may incur the wrath of otherworldly friends, many Chinese believe that the seventh month ghost festival is a no-no for weddings, as it is generally an unlucky period for happy celebrations of any kind. And that includes other big decisions as well, including buying a new house, signing a business contract and so on. It’s therefore best to pay heed to these Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts.
7. NEVER sit in the front row of Getai concerts
Getai shows are organised around various neighbourhoods in Singapore during theHungry 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, that’s why they’re always kept empty. Try not to forget this Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts, or you might end up taking someone’s seat!
8. Avoid swimming, especially at night
One of the Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts is to avoid 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 for a chance at reincarnation. That’s why it’s best to stay away and remember that water activities are one of the things not to do during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore this 2023.
9. Don’t cover your forehead with your hair
Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts also include leaving your forehead exposed. Chinese beliefs say that strong life energy radiates from your forehead. That’s why leaving it exposed could push unwanted spirits away! So if you’ve gotten bangs recently, it’s time to let them grow out so you can convert them to the side-swept version.
10. Don’t sing when you’re out alone at night
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 on your own! Pro tip: If the music bug hits you, just plug in a set of earphones and take a silent stroll. This particular rule in the list of Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts also includes whistling and talking to yourself. Who knows? Some special individuals might start taking a keen interest in your voice.
11. Don’t talk about ghosts
Despite being the best time to tell horror stories to scare your friends, telling ghost or other supernatural-related stories may just attract the attention of our otherworldly friends. Who knows, they might just be sitting next to you listening on! You wouldn’t want a mysterious tap on your shoulder coming from out of nowhere. So don’t forget that this is part of the Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts!
12. Don’t stick your chopsticks upright in your food
One of the most important Hungry Ghost taboos includes this. If you live in a very pantang (superstitious) household, you’ll know better than to stick your chopsticks in your food. That’s because these chopsticks resemble joss sticks used to worship the dead. Although it may seem really convenient to just stick your chopsticks in your bowl while chewing your food, it serves as a sign that the food is prepared for wandering spirits! If you’re not laying out food offerings, it’s best to not overlook this Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts. Or else you might wind up eating someone’s food by accident!
13. Don’t hang wind chimes at home
You should take down any wind chimes around the home while the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore this 2023 is in full swing. 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 to keep in line with the Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts.
14. 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. You can also try to catch them for a safe release. It’s a good way to appease the spirit that may be present, or you may just break one of the Hungry Ghost Festival taboos.
15. Don’t pick coins up from the streets (or anything, really)
Thinking of picking up whatever that may be on the street? Try not to do that during the 7th lunar month. It may be tempting to pick up these things you may find lying around. But there’s a high chance that these items 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 tricks!
16. 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 or Gojek under the trees, just shuffle along a bit and pray for the best.
17. Watch your step!
Joss sticks and food offerings are common sightings during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore. You may come across them tucked into the corner of walk paths in your home estate. Most of them would be lined along sidewalks as well, so watch where you’re going and avoid touching or stepping onto any of them lest you offend the spirits. If you do, just remember that as part of the Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts, say a quick apology and be on your way.
18. Don’t hang clothes out of your house overnightThis may seem inconvenient, but Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts also include changing up where you dry your laundry. And that’s especially for households who usually hang freshly washed laundry out your window. The shape of clothes can potentially attract wandering spirits. So they may “borrow” your favourite dress or suit and may even leave some negative aura behind. This means an aura that could cause misfortune to befall you! So take note and add this to your list of things not to do during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore this 2023.
19. Don’t leave your home slippers facing the bed
Most folks would recommend adding this to your list of Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts. Your home is supposed to be your safe haven. You wouldn’t want anything foreign to linger around, especially if they’re unwelcomed. So don’t leave your home slippers pointing towards your bed! It’s literally an open invitation for wandering spirits — you’re showing them your resting place. So keep this in mind when you’re thinking about things not to do during the Hungry Ghost Festival.
20. Avoid taking pictures late at night
As part of the Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts, it’s recommended to not stay out too late. But if you happen to still be out and randomly decide to take a selfie, please don’t. You may accidentally include someone else who didn’t want to have their picture taken. Or worse, capturing someone you didn’t even see physically. Yikes. So let’s try to avoid that and remember this as one of the most important things not to do during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore this 2023.
21. Try not to cut your hair at night
In this day and age, it’s fairly certain you’ll need a haircut someday. Especially if you’re someone who likes to get their regular trim. But we’d suggest taking a break for once during the 7th lunar month. That’s because your hair is actually your yang energy. It’s a form of positive energy that gives you strength, so removing it would deplete your stores of positive energy. And this includes shaving as well. It’s also better to cut your hair during the day as that’s when yang force is stronger. Cutting, shaving or plucking your hair at night when yin energy is stronger could weaken your yang, and we do not want that to happen during this time of the year!
Keep these Hungry Ghost Festival do’s and don’ts in mind (2023)
Take note of the things not to do during the Hungry Ghost Festival and you’ll be spared the spirits’ disturbances. If you’re partaking in this festival, be sure to get all your offerings like incense sticks and joss paper in advance. Thinking about what to wear over this month? Here are some old money outfit ideas and style tips for oversized shirts that you can consider!
This article was updated on 7 August 2023. Additional research done by Caryn Tan.