Food has always played a big role in Chinese holidays but during the Hungry Ghost Festival, food is at the center of the festivities. Discover what makes the Hungry Ghost Festival unique, what food offerings to prepare, and why there's more to this holiday than just appeasing the restless spirits.
Food Offerings For The Hungry Ghost Festival
What is the Hungry Ghost Festival
The Hungry Ghost Festival or Yu Lan is a Taoist and Buddhist tradition celebrated on the 14th or 15th of the seventh month of the Chinese Calendar. During this day, the gates of hell are opened and the hungry spirits of our ancestors walk the earth in search of food, merriment, and other worldly pleasures.
As their living descendants, families are called to make offerings such as food, money, and entertainment to appease the anger and suffering of our ancestors who may have died without a proper tribute or send-off.
How to Prepare for the Hungry Ghost Festival
So, how does one pacify your hangry ancestors? No one wants to invite bad luck in their homes, so it’s best prepare at least a week ahead of the ghost-feeding festivities.
1. Fold your joss paper.
Hell bank notes and joss paper folded in the shape of gold inglots, houses, electronics, and others are usually burned during the festival. It is believed that hell bank notes have the same value in the afterlife as they do in the material world. Thus, burning these offerings ensures that the spirits of our ancestors can live comfortably even in the afterlife.
2. Make a floating lantern.
When you give the spirits a proper welcome, it’s only fitting that you send them off properly as well. On the last night of the Ghost Festival, you can send the wandering spirits back to the underworld by floating a lotus-shaped paper lantern down a river.
3. Plan for the family dinner.
It’s not a Chinese holiday without a huge family dinner. Instead of going all out with the dishes, think simple and nourishing. You will be feeding your hungry ancestors, so it’s always a good idea to prepare their favorite meals.
This is also a great opportunity to revive some longstanding family recipes. Vegetarian recipes are also recommended following Buddhist traditions. Just don’t forget to leave a space or two in the dining table for your beloved departed!
What do you offer during the Hungry Ghost Festival
An altar of offerings may be prepared before or on the night of the Ghost Festival itself. After enjoying dinner with your family and ancestral spirits, there are orphan spirits who roam and pass by your homes.
The reason why the offerings are set-up a few steps away from your doors is because you don’t want to invite unknown or evil spirits inside. Still, they deserve something special for the journey.
1. Make it three.
Traditionally, three bowls of rice, three sets of chopsticks, and three cups of Chinese tea can be found in Ghost Festival altars to symbolize the realms of heaven, earth, and the underworld.
It’s perfectly okay for you to set the offerings aside and eat it after the festivities. As much as it’s a celebration of spirits, it’s also a celebration of life.
2. Stay consistent.
We did mention that vegetarian recipes are recommended but feel free to offer meat. However, whether it’s fish, pork, or any other meat, it’s best to be consistent.
Imagine being a spirit and you finally get to eat food you’ve been longing for only to find out that this year’s offerings have been switched up. You must be bummed, wouldn’t you? The spirits would be too.
To prevent spirits from holding grudges, try to prepare the same dishes you every year. The ghosts will thank you for it.
3. Invite good luck.
Similar to Chinese New Year, the Ghost Festival food offerings ought to bring luck to the living. Here are some examples:
- Noodles: Symbolizes a long and well-lived life
- Pineapple: In Hokkien, pineapple is called “ong lai” which means “to invite luck”.
- Chinese Lettuce: In Cantonese, san choy is a homonym for “to grow luck” and symbolizes prosperity.
- Huat Kuih: Huat kuih is a Chinese steamed pastry that is shaped like a flower. When steamed, it doubles in size and symbolizes prosperity. Fittingly, huat means “to prosper” in Hokkien.
What happens next?
After dinner and the ghost-feeding ceremony outside your homes, the Hungry Ghost Festival culminates with the burning of the joss paper and the releasing of paper lanterns in the river- a lovely farewell gesture to your (hopefully) happy and filled spirits.
The Hungry Ghost Festival may be dubbed as "Chinese Halloween" and involves spooky spirits but this tradition is actually a wholesome family affair where kids can learn all about caring for the needy, valuing what they have in the living world, and placing importance of family relationships. While it feels like a big dinner party with invisible guests, it's clear that this special holiday is for the living as much as it is for the departed.
While you're here, make sure not to be a hangry spirit and get your Asian festival food essentials only at Karman Foods!
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