August 14, 2011
August 30, 2012
August 20, 2013
No, not those kind of ghosts.
The period of Ghost Month–the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar–comes to a climax on Zhong Yuan, the Hungry Ghost Festival, on the eve of the fifteenth day. During Ghost Month the gates of the afterworld open to allow the dead to walk the earth and seek food.
Families prepare meals for the departed on Zhong Yuan. Many say prayers and burn special incense. Also, it is said these ghosts can enact revenge on those who wronged them in life.
There is a superstition against doing all sorts of activities during Ghost Month, including swimming–kind of unfortunately, as the Olympic swimming events occur smack in the middle this year.
In China the festival bears some similarity to Qingming–Tombsweeping Day–except the Ghost Festival focuses solely on the departed of previous generations.
Other traditions include the placement of a chair and alter outdoors in a prominent location for priests. Dishes of peaches and special flour-made rice are placed underneath the alter and spread by the priest to the souls of the dead. Atop the alter are symbolic sacrifices, including food and cakes, meant to invoke the gods for better weather and healthy crops. Families also make and burn fake paper money in tribute to the dead.