Imagine the last time you celebrated Halloween. Pretty fun night, right? Now imagine doing that for about…30 days in a row. Take out the costumes, throw in some incense, maybe a temple or two, and you’ll have what is known in Taiwan as 鬼月(gui yue), aka Ghost Month.
In Taiwanese culture, the seventh lunar month of each year, roughly around August in the Gregorian calendar, is Ghost Month. According to legend, during this month, the gates of the afterlife are opened, and ghosts roam the living world. To appease spirits, people often burn spirit paper money and set out food and drink offerings. People also avoid doing certain things, such as swimming or getting married, during this time.
This year, Ghost Month takes place from August 7th to September 4th. That being said, there’s quite a few do’s and don’ts of Ghost Month, and we’re here to teach you all about it!
Here are 10 Things you might not have known about Ghost Month:
According to custom, celebrating birthdays during Ghost Month is considered taboo, since spirits will be drawn to the ruckus. It also offends spirits when you celebrate life in their presence, so maybe it’s better to just keep the celebrations to a minimum. Just be glad you were born at all though, because…
That’s right. Weddings, engagements, breakups, moving in together, anniversary dinners, honeymoons, and babies (yes you are “strongly advised” against giving birth during Ghost Month!) are all taboo during Ghost Month. Sorry couples.
That is, unless you’re a spirit. Because then…
During Ghost Month, the relatives of those who passed on before marriage hold “weddings” for spirit brides and grooms, due to the fact that dying before marriage is considered one of the worst tragedies in Taiwanese culture.
So, why not get hitched in the afterlife instead?
In order to appease spirits, Taiwanese often burn money to transport it into the afterlife. The money burned isn’t real currency, but it’s believed to hold actual value in the spirit world. It’s estimated that Taiwan burns about 220,000 tons of spirit money annually.
Due to the numerous taboos surrounding Ghost Month, including one where you shouldn’t make any large financial/business decision, the economy often plummets during this time. Car sales, housing sales, and business deals, ranging from wedding bookings to corporate merges, all nosedive during this time.
Along with money and food offerings, traditional concerts and shows are often held for the ghosts’ viewing pleasure. Traditionally, during these shows, the first row of chairs is always left empty for the spirits. It’s believed if you sit in those seats, it might invite a spirit to come and possess you.
Swimming, walking alongside rivers, buying fish tanks, even taking out wet clothes for drying at nighttime is considered unlucky during Ghost Month. This is because water is believed to be a very “yin” element, meaning spirits are oftentimes attracted to it. On the other hand….
Turns out, money isn’t the only thing that gets burned. Paper houses, complete with paper furniture and paper plumbing, are also burned as a way of sending things to the afterlife. Similar to the money, the houses are meant to materialize as actual houses in the underworld.
Ghost Month is also commonly known as Hungry Ghost Month. It’s said when the spirits come from the underworld, they’re all starving due to the fact that anything they try to eat turns to fire on their lips. This is why you’ll often see tables out on the street during Ghost Month, covered in food offerings for the spirits.
Food isn’t offered and money isn’t burned just because people are scared to face the wrath of the supernatural. It’s also believed that if you treat a spirit right, with paper money offerings, food and entertainment, they will bring you good luck in the coming year.
Feature Photo via Daryl Tong