Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Taiwanese Traditions: The Traditions of Ghost Month

A woman with her Ghost Month offering to her ancestors.
Once again, Taiwan is in the midst of Ghost Month, sometimes called Hungry Ghost Month. The Ghost Month takes place throughout the entire month of July (Lunar).

All of the religiously themed festivals in Taiwan are held according to the lunar calendar. So this year (2011) Ghost Month is taking place from July 31 until August 28. There are a number of traditions associated with Ghost Month.

Ghost Month Traditions:

Lanterns light the way for the deceased to find their way.
 During the seventh month, the Gates of Heaven and Hell are opened and the Ghosts of departed ancestors return to earth. On the first day of the month, the gates of the temple are opened symbolizing the opening of the gates of hell.

On the first, fifteenth and the thirtieth day of the month people set up offerings in front of their homes for returning Ghosts. They offer incense and food and beverages for the Ghosts. Alcoholic drinks are often offered. The people also burn spirit money. They believe that the smoke carries the essence of the money to their ancestors who use that money to supply their needs while waiting to be reincarnated.

People in Taiwan are afraid of ghosts and are careful not to allow the Ghosts inside their homes and do not allow their address to be seen. All offerings are done on the porch or in front of the home. They are never done inside the house.

One of the singers drawing a crowd.
On the thirteenth day of the festival a parade of lanterns is held. The lanterns are supposed to help the ghosts to find their way home.

On the fourteenth day of Ghost Month a parade is held. The parade includes Dragon Dancers, and drummers. One modern twist to the Ghost parade is the use of current music. As I stood and watched the parade the sounds of the Far East Movement song, “Like a G-6” blared through the streets of downtown Taoyuan City. There are also singers who ride in elaborate trucks singing a mix of Chinese Folk Music and popular Taiwanese pop songs. The women singing the songs are scantily clad. From a western perspective we have trouble associating religion and scantily clad women, so I asked a man standing and watching why the women were dressed that way his reply with a shrug was, “To draw a crowd to watch the parade, I think.” It seems to have been a fairly effective strategy considering the size of the crowd.

Each Dragon Dancer  is one young man standing on another's shoulders
The fifteenth day of the month is the official Ghost Festival. Buddhist and Taoist priests both perform elaborate rituals to absolve the suffering of the deceased. Often on this day families gather for feasts, leaving a few empty chairs for deceased ancestors treating them as if they are still living.

A large part of Ghost Month is the worship of ancestors as seen in the offerings of food, incense and money. Filial piety is extended to the ancestors even after their death as the family burns paper money, paper mache representations of homes and material possessions and clothing to provide for their ancestors as they await reincarnation.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  Ghost Month 2: Ghost Day
Taiwanese Traditions:  Chinese New Year:  The Legend of Nian
Taiwanese Traditions:  The Dragon Boat Festival

No comments:

Post a Comment