[Update, Aug 22, 2017]: This article was first published in 2016. Hungry Ghost Festival begins on Aug 22 in 2017. The date below (Aug 3) is from 2016.
Hungry Ghost Festival falls on the 7th month of the Lunar calendar. This year, Aug 3 marks the first day of the month when it is believed that the gates of hell will open.
According to Chinese tradition, spirits will be free to roam the earth for one month each year, seeking food and offerings.
Burning paper money, incense and providing offerings to ancestors and spirits are just some of the customs the Chinese practise during the month, a belief that stems from ancient Chinese traditions of ancestral and spiritual worship.
According to Buddhism traditions, these ghosts - also known as 'preta' in Sanskrit - are in one of the six realms of rebirth for people who committed evil deeds in their previous lives. Pretas are also prevalent in various Japanese, Hinduism and Thai cultures.
These spirits are said to be trapped between the spiritual and human realms, are unable to drink or eat, and as a result, they are constantly hungry.
In the Taoist tradition, hungry ghosts are deemed as people who died unhappy, from a violent death, or when their families no longer venerate their ancestors.
There are many taboos, customs and folk beliefs surrounding the Hungry Ghost Festival. Here are some of the few superstitions you probably never knew existed:
1. Don't cry yourself a river
Getting emotional and crying in the middle of the night is said to attract ghosts and gives them an opportunity to possess you. Swallow those tears, maybe?
2. Don't move/renovate your home or office
It is deemed as inauspicious to start any home or renovation projects this month, as it is believed that any soul residing in the premise should not be disturbed.
3. Opening umbrellas is a no-no
Spirits are said to take shelter under umbrellas, so unless you want to bring an uninvited guest back, it is advisable not to open an umbrella in the house, or leave it open outside the house.
4. Shh, stop whistling
If you want a stalker, the best way to attract one during the ghost month is to start whistling after sunset. It is believed that whistling attracts the attention of ghosts who'll stick to you and bring bad luck.
5. Leave insects alone
If there are any creepy crawlies like moths, butterflies, grasshoppers that visit your house during this time, it is best not to kill them. The Chinese believe that bugs are a manifestation of spirits or ancestors. As for cockroaches, we'll leave that to your own discretion.
6. Empty chairs (at empty tables)
Try not to make negative comments or crack jokes about empty chairs seen at getai performances, or anywhere else where you know some sort of event is happening. Those chairs are occupied.
7. Happy birthday to...
Many people are born during the Hungry Ghost Festival and blowing candles on a birthday cake is unavoidable. But try not to do such celebrations at night and do so in the day instead.
Other more well-known taboos are to avoid swimming, marrying, going for holiday trips during this period, and the list goes on.
While some of the dos and don'ts seem rather ludicrous to adhere to, perhaps it's best to err on the side of caution during the 7th month. You've been warned.