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In Hong Kong, the Hungry Ghost Festival (盂蘭節)
is a major Buddhist and Taoist event. Hungry ghosts are the restless spirits
of people who did not have a funeral. There is no one visiting their graves and
they do not receive the gifts that Chinese people would take to their ancestors
to pay respects. They miss out on food and spirit money.
HOLY ROBES SHED
Huge paper mache models of clothes are made for gods. It will be burnt at the end of
the Hungry Ghost festival.
There are three types of robes for the gods in the shed,
i.e. one for heaven and Earth parents, one for North and South gods and one for the other gods.
In the shed, there are some small robes, gold and silver papers and many paper offering objects.
The holy robes shed normally contains three big robes, some smaller robes
and many paper offerings.
Various offerings are placed inside the gods shed or in front of it.
People also do make personal offerings in front of the King Ghost or various altars.
Food offerings are placed in front of a small automated puppet Chinese opera inside
the gods shed.
Chinese dessert delicacies are offered and placed in the gods shed.
Large scale celebrations are carried out and delicious food is offered.
Food offerings and paper offerings for the hungry ghosts are placed on a table.
Among the common items offered included abacus, axe, golden rice bowl
and rice bucket, statues of the God of Wealth, statues of fish, cow, pi xiu (a legendary auspicious
animal), horses and toads.
People make offerings face to the king ghost and then go to burn the offerings in the
dedicated area either a little bit remote from other temporary buildings or protected by
Burning paper money or paper effigies at the Festival of the
Hungry Ghosts expresses the wish and the hope that the deities will exercise their power
to protect devotees.
Joss paper also known as ghost money, are sheets of paper that are burned during
traditional Chinese festival such as Hungry Ghost festival.
Few people in China, especially younger generations in urban areas,
follow hungry ghosts traditions. Many traditional practices were stamped out during the
Cultural Revolution because they were seen as relics of China's feudal past.
Joss paper is traditionally made from coarse bamboo paper, although rice paper is also commonly used.
Traditional joss is cut into individual squares or rectangles. Each square of paper has either a thin
piece of square foil glued to its center or it may be endorsed with a red ink seal from a traditional
The ghosts get money too. During the festival, it is traditional to burn Hell Money
and also paper replicas of everyday things that might be useful in the afterlife.
Golden pineapples made skilfully of joss paper are offered for the departed.
Local benefactors can win merit and boost
their status in the community by organizing feasts as offerings to the hungry
ghosts. Cooked rice is distributed to anyone who may wish to join in.
When opera performers and the priests play at the same time, the atmosphere
can become very noisy during Hungry Ghost festival. Chinese Opera evening sessions
often start from 7PM to 11PM.
This joss paper offering will be burnt to appease ghosts from hell.
Hungry Ghost festival is a period of charity towards ghosts but also towards
humans through rice donation.
Weird presence of a hen inside the Chinese opera backstage.
Not sure it is for lucky reason and just to clean food leftover.
Small altar with three deites and receiving some donations.
Those offerings are put inside the gods shed. Some items become holy thanks
to the monks or Taoist priests. They are then sold during an auction to raise money.
GOLDEN NOTICE BOARD
A panel is displaying local people donations during the festival.
Taoists usually purchase food offerings from a communal purse.
The Chinese people celebrate this festival to remember their dead family
members and pay tribute to them. Offering food to the deceased appeases them and
wards off bad luck.
The golden Notice Board delivers information concerning the donation from the public,
shops and the neighbourhood.
The donation panel is regularly updated for the public to be aware of the
donations and to encourage people to donate.
Some Hungry Ghost festivals last up to 4 or 5 days.
"If you have enough money, you can have more days".
The golden Notice Board also displays rundown of the three days festival as well
as details of the performances.
The office is a place for making donations. It is also a place where
the committee take rest and have meetings. Sometimes food is prepared in the office for the committee
members. It often features a large pot of congee with different kinds of vegetables.
The principal activities of Yue Lan Associations is to be engaged in preparing,
organizing and co-organizing charitable functions for Hungry Ghost festivals. Such
companies are charitable institutions and are exempted from taxes.
A yearly independent auditor's report is provided to the members of
the associations. Such report allow seeing the various costs of a Hungry Ghost Festival.
Souvenir picture of officials and volonteers, who helped to prepare
the Hungry Ghost festival event.
In year 2008 the Chinese opera troupe
fee was 74 000 HKD. For the temporary structures made of bamboo the fee was 208 000 HKD. The
Buddhist monks fee was 72 000 HKD. The rice donations to elderly people cost 96 000 HKD.
Electricity bill was 47 000 HKD. The food provision cost 98 000 HKD. The total expenditure
was 750 000 HKD.
Members of the committee sitting in front of the Office temporary building.
The donations have to cover the expenditure to ensure such event can still be
organized every year.
In year 2014 some information
mentioned 270 000 HKD fee for the temporary structures made of bamboo and a total expenditure
of over one million HKD! In year 2015 due to lack of fund, there was
only God offering in Ngau Tau Kok, no opera. Some committee cannot afford anymore.
The Hungry Ghost festival is also a time to remember relatives who have passed on.
Regular food is offered. The ghosts eat first but the food does not disappear. Then local
people eat the offerings and pray for good luck.
Games are offered to the hungry ghosts such as playing cards, dices,
dominoes, Chinese chess.
Residents of Chiu Chow origin do observe
the festival with particular reverence, staging street operas and distributing free rice
and bread to help the elderly people.
Rice distribution activities held during the Yue Lan festival is supposed to bring peace and
good fortune to recipients.
In year 2005 an elderly woman collapsed and died
while about to join distribution of Yue Lan rice in Tsim Sha Tsui. Thousands of elderly people can often
particpate to such distribution and some often begun queuing up from the evening to wait for a ceremony
scheduled on next day.
Food is offered especially whole roasted pig and colored cakes.
Policemen are now present at such distribution to prevent any stampedes between ederly
people eager to get 'good luck' rice.
In some smaller Hungry Ghost Festival areas, people will rub shoulders in
order to get the food and the offerings to the ghosts.
In year 2006, two hungry ghost months have been
running consecutively. The regular seventh month and the leap month also. This happened because the
lunar calendar assigns an extra month every three years to balance the lunar and solar cycle. The last
time the leap month occurred after the seventh month was in 1968 and next time is 2044.
Hungry Ghost Festival also a time to be charitable.
Rice from Thailand is offered.
Altars for gods are usually found on backstages in most Chinese Opera theatres.
Before performing, troupe members would make incense offerings to the gods and pray
for their blessings.
It is especially during the Hungry Ghost Festival in the month of August
that the operas are staged together with other activities to atone the sins of the dead.
Chiu Chow opera troupe are often coming from China. They are hired to stay in Hong Kong
during one month for the Hungry Ghost Festival and perform in various districts.
In each Hungry Ghost festival area, performances last up to three days.
Chinese opera performers shall worship deities before the opera start.
It shall protect against fire. Various Chinese dialect populations will have different deities.
Gifts are offered and incense is burnt in order to get good luck and good sound.