Sorry about the late postings as I seem to have problems posting to Blogger this morning. I finished this post and when I published it, the connection hung on me and I lost all my data.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which is 19 August this year. Usually the Cantonese will offer prayers to the ghosts on the eve before the actual date while the Teochews and Hokkiens celebrate on the night of the festival. A week before the festival date, there will be entertainment shows for the ghosts and the living that range from karaoke sessions, dancing and Chinese opera performances. Paper effigies and altars are also erected under temporary tents for people to pray and worship the ghosts. If you do attend any of these performances, never sit in the front seats as these are always reserved for the ghosts. For more on what the altars and the performances look like, please refer to Lilian from Malaysia Best who has excellent pictures on them.
The celebration of this festival is from an amalgamation of beliefs of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and traditional religious teachings. The Taoist believe the soul has a yin element called the kui (devil) and a yang element called the shen (spirit). Upon death, the shen remains within the grave while the kui returns to earth to roam it. The Chinese believe heavily in filial piety which includes worshipping their ancestors' graves or else calamity with strike the family. If this is neglected, the kui is said to become a hungry ghost that will cause trouble among the living.
The Chinese interpret the spirit world as a parallel universe to earth where the spirits enjoy food, money and material items just like we do on earth. Hence to appease these spirits and as a way to pay respect to our ancestors, food is served on altars and paper offerings are burnt to send them over to the spirit world. These buns shaped as mandarin oranges and peaches with chinese lettering are some of the food items offered to the hungry ghosts. Lilian from Malaysia Best has blogged about another type of bun that is also offered to them.