08/17/2012, 00.00
TAIWAN - CHINA

Ghost month: superstitions and good business

Xin Yage
In the seventh lunar month the spirits of the dead roam free. Children, young people and adults try to placate and guard against them with offerings of food, paper notes, prayers. An ancient tradition.

Taipei (AsiaNews) - "The gates of the underworld open for a month and release the souls of the dead, so we have to feed them while they are in our world"; with great care a child of seven or eight explains the practice behind the traditional month which starts today, while his mother fills the shopping cart at the supermarket. Shops and supermarkets each year, before the beginning of the seventh lunar month (which this year begins today, Friday, Aug. 17), stock up on food items and display them in bumper value packs for the ease of customers . "In addition to pleasing the spirits, this makes people happy, and happy customers make us happy too: it's also a good business there is no doubt," smiled the manager of a large supermarket in one of the most populated districts in the city. In addition to business, he is very diligent in keeping the spirit and celebrating the month.

In Chinese tradition, the festival of the spirits is celebrated on the 15th of the seventh lunar month (zhong yuan jie), which corresponds to August 31 this year, and is celebrated on the night of 14 (or the night of 15 in northern China). In Taiwan, the entire seventh lunar month is celebrated as the "month of the spirits" or "ghosts" (yue gui). The first day of the seventh lunar month the doors of several temples are opened: they represent the gates of hell and for this reason the spirits of the dead can go out for a month and wander among the houses of the living. On the twelfth day the lamps on the main altar are lit, while during the thirteenth day there is a procession with lanterns. The fourteenth day is a moving celebration with the release of lamps on waterways, rivers or the sea.

Offerings are made to the deceased to petition them for help but also to placate them. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, for example, people do not go swimming: it is believed that the spirits of drowned may seek company... drowning some hapless innocent!

Professor Ding (丁), who teaches Chinese history at the state high school, explains that "the origins of the 'yue gui' are very old, coming both from Chinese folk religions and Taoism: Buddhism also celebrates the Ullambana (feast day of the dead) on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. " Traditionally during this month all traveling, moving, weddings are avoided even if today the younger generation feels freer to decide otherwise.

In the evening, while I'm buying the coffee for the next day, another boy is all intent on choosing copies of colored paper notes that will then be burned as a gift to the spirits: "This month I will pray even harder: the spirits are sure to help me ... ". His Mother replied: "in addition to praying more, you should also study more: tian zhu zhu zi (heaven helps those who help themsleves)," as the saying goes in many languages ​​and culture.

 

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