Zhongyuan Festival: How to mark China’s “ghost festival”

Lanterns float on the Wanquan River in Qionghai, southern China’s Hainan province, September 2, 2020. / CFP

Lanterns float on the Wanquan River in Qionghai, southern China’s Hainan province, September 2, 2020. / CFP

The Zhongyuan festival has several names. Followers of Buddhism call it Ullambana, while many people in China call it the “Ghost Festival”.

It falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar. This year, the date corresponds to August 22 of the Gregorian calendar.

It is believed that on this day the doors of the spiritual realms open and therefore people organize all kinds of activities to honor their deceased loved ones.

Zhongyuan Festival is one of three traditional festivals in China that honor the spirits of deceased ancestors. It is also an opportunity to pray for safety and to express filial piety. The other two festivals are the Qingming Festival and the Double Ninth Festival.

People drop lanterns on a river during the Zhongyuan festival in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, September 1, 2020. / CFP

People drop lanterns on a river during the Zhongyuan festival in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, September 1, 2020. / CFP

The festival is marked by followers of Taoism and Buddhism. Taoists believe that the god of hell releases the ghosts of the lower realm on this day, while Buddhists see it as a day to alleviate suffering and honor the elderly.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Ullambana festival was introduced to Japan with Buddhism and was later called Obon, or Bon. On this day, deceased ancestors are believed to return to their living families, so people prepare for reunion with the performance of Bon Odori, or a Bon dance, to welcome the spirits and pay homage to their sacrifices.

The Zhongyuan festival is marked in different ways in China.

A man prays in front of his ancestral tablet at a temple in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, August 21, 2021. / CFP

A man prays in front of his ancestral tablet at a temple in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, August 21, 2021. / CFP

In folk stories, deceased ancestors are released by Yama, the god of hell, for half a month. At the end of their stay in this world, people send them burning incense paper with the intention of sending money and other items with them to the afterlife.

Another way to mark the festival is the floating water lanterns. They are shaped like a lotus flower and a candle or lamp is usually placed in the middle. The lotus is a symbol of fortune and enlightenment in Buddhism and is meant to wish ancestors peace.

In parts of Zhejiang Province (eastern China), people prepare dishes similar to spring rolls. / CFP

In parts of Zhejiang Province (eastern China), people prepare dishes similar to spring rolls. / CFP

The day is also celebrated in the kitchen in different parts of China. In the eastern province of Jiangsu, people shred eggplants, dredge them in flour, and fry them to bake cakes to worship their ancestors. In parts of eastern Zhejiang Province, people prepare foods similar to spring rolls.

In parts of northern China, people choose to eat simple meals instead of large feasts on this day to honor the dead.

Source link