Ghost Month Explained

Buddhist temple


Ghost month Ceremonies

In Chinese folk legend, the seventh lunar month is the Ghost Month. It is said that every year on the first day of the seventh lunar month, the gate of hell will be wide open and the ghosts will come out until the gate is closed on the 30th day of the month. For the safety of both ghosts and human beings, China has the tradition of worshipping the dead in lunar July since ancient times. In folk China, people would offer sacrifices on the first, second, fifteenth and last day of the Ghost Month. There are many taboos in the Ghost Month. For example, do not wear the clothes with your name, do not pat other people on the shoulder, do not whistle, children and senior citizens should not go out at night.

Year Date of Ghost Festival Ghost Month
2017 September 5th August 22nd – September 19th
2018 August 25th August 11th – September 9th
2019 August 15th August 1st – August 29th


Most people in ancient China believed in ghosts and gods. Legend has it that anyone who dies normally could reincarnate while those who are guilty or die accidentally would become ghosts wandering in the mortal world. Some evil spirits even seize the opportunity to disturb the living souls, causing their death in disasters and accidents. As a result, people who die unexpectedly during this period are regarded “have been taken away by ghosts”.
People believe that holding a sacrifice ceremony for these spirits would help them to escape from hell at an early date and prevent them from disturbing the living beings. Therefore, Chinese people would hold sacrifice ceremony and burn money at the roadside during the month to worship the ghosts, which become the customs like “setting lanterns” and “worshipping good brothers”.
Since the sacrifice ceremony has the meaning of praying for safety, Chinese people also invite theatrical troupes to play for gods and entertain guests at open-air banquets in addition to worshipping the “good brothers” with substantial offerings at the Ghost Festival, also Zhongyuan Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. Nowadays, China encourages frugality; the folk customs are improved and the sacrifice ceremony is simplified.
Ancient Chinese people believed natural and man-made disasters were frequent in the 7th lunar month, during which they had feared. Hence, the cultural custom of avoiding anything in this month is formed. In modern society, many taboos fail to stand the test of time but some are still unexplainable with science.
Gate of Hell Opened
For private houses, the Gate of Hell is open on the first day of the Ghost Month, on which ghosts come out to the mortal world and the sacrifice ceremony, grand or simple, is required. The grand sacrifice ceremony means offering a good meal while the simple means of preparing some fruits and desserts to show respect. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. This kind of sacrifice ceremony implies bringing me no trouble once eating my food.
Gate of Heaven Opened
For public places, the Gate of Hell is open on the second day of the Ghost Month. In ancient times, shops and government offices held the sacrifice ceremony one day after the private houses to pray for safety and no mysterious case in the month.
Zhongyuan Festival
Zhongyuan Festival, also Ghost Festival, falls on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. In the night (early morning and late night), ghosts get together and evil spirits reach the peak. On this very day, people would burn money and invoke ancestors and ghosts with sacrifice. Likewise, public places sacrifice on the next day, i.e. the 16th day of the 7th lunar month.
Gate of Hell Closed
On the last day of the 7th lunar month, the Gate of Hell is closed and ghosts go back to the hell from vacation. People offer sacrifice on this day to pray for safety in the rest of days.


In the Ghost Month, evil spirits reach the peak. According to the legend of scapegoat, children, senior citizens, weak or sensitive people should not go out at night, or they will be attacked by the evil spirits. Also, you should keep away from entering the water, especially the sea. In short, you should stay away from risks and supernatural games, especially in the night of Ghost Festival.

Some people often take items to avoid evil spirits with them, such as an amulet, prayer beads, coarse salt, glutinous rice, cross and lodestone with particular energy. It is better to believe the function of these items as long as your normal life is not affected. For many people, they can feel at ease regardless of the effect.

Chinese Holidays

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Don Parnall ()