The Hungry Ghost Festival, also known as the Ghost Festival,
is celebrated either on the night of the 14th or the 15th day (depending on where you live in China), of the seventh month of the lunar year, known in the West as August.
In other countries, which celebrate a similar festival, it is observed earlier or later.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is the most important festival of the Hungry Ghost Month,
and on this day the dead are remembered and honoured, meals are prepared three times, plates and settings are put at the table for ancestors,
and the feast at night is full of burning incense and joss paper.
It is believed by Taoists and Buddhists alike that on the first day of the Hungry Ghost Month, the gates of heaven and hell are opened,
and one's ancestors, as well as restless, uncared for, and vengeful spirits walk the earth for the whole month until the gates close on the last day.
You may remember our video on the Qingming Festival, and be thinking what's the different about these two festivals?
Well, where the Qingming is all about honoring your ancestors in the land of the dead,
the Ghost Festival is when the ghosts actually come to the land of the living, and it's essential to appease them with offerings food and entertainment.
Although the exact origins of the festival are lost to time,
many of the attributes of the festival including respect for one's parents and ancient ancestors, and easing vengeful or wandering spirits, come from Buddhism,
and specifically, the tale of Mulian, who rescues his mother from hell.
The tale goes like this: after Mulian's mother dies, she goes to hell for her evil sins in life.
And when Mulian finds out, he seeks aid from Buddha.
He is guided by Buddha who tells Mulian to offer monks and monasteries gifts and food on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month.
And it would be his devotion to his mother which would allow her to leave hell and be reincarnated.
The dead are thought to be hungry, because they are spirits and cannot eat.
But in the case of angry or restless ghosts, it's because they did not receive proper burial rites, or have been forgotten by their families.
By offering them food, however, they are fed by one's kindness and attention, and turn from hungry ghosts to happy ghosts.
Through the Taoist beliefs, we get the opening of hell's gates at the beginning of the seventh lunar month, and the closing of it on the last day.
"Hell" should not always be understood in a Christian sense, because the meaning of that word changes with its context in a sentence.
Sometimes it does refer to a place of punishment, sometimes it only means the land of the dead or the underworld.