Customs
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Hungry Ghost Month”

This piece of folklore was gained unintentionally, when my friend reprimanded me for whistling at night so as to avoid being afraid of the dark. It was past midnight and was very dark. The moon was not out, so everything was dark and muffled. It was cold, but it was still manageable to be outside. People were preparing for festivities, but the environment seemed entirely surreal. It was out of legitimate concern, however, that my friend scolded me so quickly and harshly. For the sake of safety and good fortune, my friend believed that this was just not to be done. It also said much about my friend’s spirituality. She had learned this tradition from her parents, who are strong Buddhists. She believed strongly that ghosts and spirits still interacted with the world and could affect it depending on how they were treated; particularly if they were treated well or ignored.

In Taiwanese culture, spirits and ghosts are very accepted, and they are to be honored and respected. As a result, every August is known as “Hungry Ghost Month.” You are not supposed to go outside after dark because that is when the spirits come outside to mingle and visit. Also, you are also not supposed to whistle at night, because the ghosts will hear it and follow you home, bringing misfortune and spreading it to you and your household. Although generally you are not supposed to go outside at night, there are still festivals held during this month that individuals attend. During the festivals, everyone wears masks and celebrates together. The usage of the masks is ultimately very symbolic because during the month of ghosts and spirits, you cannot be sure if you are celebrating with other humans or if you are celebrating with ghosts; the masks are representative of the mingling that occurs during the festivals of this month.

As the collector, I felt very moved by the tradition. At night when no light was present, it seemed impossibly surreal and it felt like ghosts were out and about. Although later on, I felt more that it was a trick of the mind, at the moment, it was truly awe-inducing and frightening.

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