Ghost Month Special: 6 Lucky Food Practices For Good Karma
Invite good luck and prosperity into your life, while you focus on kindness and compassion
It’s Ghost Month (鬼月) once again. According to Chinese tradition, the first day of the seventh Lunar Month heralds the start of the Ghost Month, which occurs this year from from August 8 and September 6. During this time, the barriers between Hell and the Land of the Living are open, allowing ghosts and spirits to roam our world. To remain protected and maintain prosperity, Chinese traditions have a whole list of dos and don'ts that include a lot of customs about food.
These customs help Chinese families to appease ghosts and spirits and keep them from causing harm or doing mischief. Prayers and meditation is encouraged, ancestors and house gods are honored and invoked, and temporary altars are set up with offerings complete with joss sticks and incense. In all these, food plays a big role. Here's how.
1. Observe Hungry Ghost Festival, which is the culmination of Ghost Month. It falls on August 22 this year. On this evening, celebrate in two ways. First, hold a family dinner to honor your ancestors and household gods. Invite your relatives and serve traditional dishes. You might want to serve a vegetarian meals in honor of the holiday’s Buddhist roots. Set some extra places at the table for your ancestors, and make sure to serve some of their favorite dishes as well. After a few prayers, enjoy the feast and make merry. Happy sounds keep bad spirits away.
2. Set up an altar with offerings for passing spirits. You can do this before or after the family dinner. The offerings are intended not for your ancestral spirits but for "orphan" ghosts who may be wandering about in search of food or entertainment. So set up a temporary altar outdoors (curbside is common) some distance away from your house. Place joss sticks, incense, and traditional food offerings like uncooked rice, peanuts, candies, raw noodles, fruit, rice wine, beer, bags of salt, even sugar. It’s perfectly okay to eat these foods afterwards.
3. It’s traditional to include three bowls of rice, three sets of chopsticks, three cups of Chinese tea on the altar. These represent the three realms of heaven, earth, and the underworld.
4. You don’t need to offer meat, but if you do it’s best to be consistent. Orphaned ghosts are known to have long memories and may hold a grudge if your food offerings are not consistent every year. So if you’ve been offering chicken, fish, or any sort of meat, it’s a good idea to maintain the practice moving forward.
5. You might choose to go vegetarian during this period. Buddhists practice vegetarianism during Ghost Month in the belief that this helps absolves the suffering of their deceased ancestors. Some choose to go meatless vegetarian only on the 1st and 15th day of the month.
6. Foods with symbolic meaning are served, especially during Hungry Ghost Festival. For example, noodles symbolize longevity and a well-lived life. Pineapples are said to invite luck. Chinese lettuce symbolizes prosperity. Fermented palm wine (huat kuth) is believed to bring prosperity.
7. This is a time to bring out your family recipes and is a wonderful way to touch base with your family roots and culture. For this reason, many ethnic Chinese specialty dishes are served at the family table during this time and is a great way to honor the past.
Ghost Month reinforces our sense of family and teaches us to act with kindness and compassion, making an effort to take care of the hungry, ghosts and humans alike. Take the chance to make good karma while you eat, drink and be merry.
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