Who’s scared of the hungry ghost month? 1

Who’s scared of the hungry ghost month?

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Aug 17 2020 09:10 AM | Updated as of Aug 17 2020 09:11 AM

MANILA - When taipan John Gokongwei, Jr. passed away, his eldest daughter Robina shared at his wake how committed he was to hard work. “He had been lying in bed for six weeks, unable to speak well because of a tube in his mouth. Other patients would ask for food. He kept asking for company financial reports,” she fondly remembered in the eulogy published in www.jgsummit.com.

Mr. Gokongwei is not alone as the Chinese are known for being industrious, keeping shops open even during holidays and extending store hours by opening an hour early and closing an hour later. 

One of the oft-repeated jokes in my Filipino-Chinese circle while growing up is that of children gathered around in their father’s deathbed. 

The patriarch began calling out their names one by one, and also did the same for the grandchildren. After he confirmed that everyone was present, he got so upset that no one was manning the store!

Contrary to popular belief, there are at least two times in the year when the Chinese do take a break. One is during the New Year, and in China they would hold week-long festivities. Another is during the Hungry Ghost Month which this year starts in two days.

Following the lunar calendar, the Ghost Month will run from August 19 to September 16. During the 29-day period, the Chinese believe that the gates of hell are opened, releasing ghosts to roam the earth until they are called to return on the last day. To appease these ghosts so the spirits do not unleash bad luck, many Chinese prepare food offerings from fruits to sweets to glutinous rice.

You can expect many Chinese to postpone life decisions especially those that involve money during this nearly 5-week period. Here are some of the taboos for them, and some may be opportunities for you, if you are brave enough to stare down these superstitions. Interestingly, the COVID-19 health crisis makes it so much easier to comply with some of them.

#1 Do not roam at night. 

Thanks to community quarantine guidelines, we can all check this off our list. The Chinese particularly warn that the elderly and the children should stay in, but better if all the adults do the same. Because they believe that evil spirits roam free during the Ghost Month, those who stay out at night would be vulnerable. Goes without saying that they also frown on any travel plans (not that many of us have any at this time).

#2 Keep your job for now.

If you are planning to move to a new job, or leave the one you have, the Chinese would tell you to do neither. Chances are if your current or would-be employer are Chinese, you would not even need to explain. They would advise you to keep the status quo and make a change only after September 16. The same goes if you are looking to start or end a business. 

#3 Yes I do, but not yet.

Your happy ever after will need to wait too. Weddings are best set for the Chinese on auspicious dates, and none of them will fall during the Ghost Month. And it’s not just weddings, but almost any momentous occasion and celebrations. Any party planning will have to look for dates after September 16 unless you want to risk guests not showing up or leaving early.

#4 Stay right where you are.

Avoid moving to a new house or you can attract bad luck which will stay with you even after September 16. Because of this, realtors offer discounts during Ghost Month for properties for sale or for lease. I know some people who have scored great deals as a result, including an interest-free two-year loan on what was already a deeply discounted property. When I asked Nena Yu why she went ahead with the purchase, she explained: “Superstitions are popularized by building on people’s fears. I could choose to be paralyzed with fear or take action and get a great bargain.”

#5 Hold on to your cash for now.

It’s not just a house that the Chinese would urge you not to buy, but almost any purchase from a car to jewelry to art pieces. Keep your cash and line up your planned purchases after the Ghost Month. It could mean losing out on limited sale periods or lower interest offers, but ensuring no bad luck comes to you. This is why sales ramp up right before the Ghost Month in China, with the superstitious trying to complete all transactions. Consumer activity picks up again only after the 29 days.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.