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How Does China's Ghost Festival Differ from Halloween?

Lanterns on the river

Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival celebrated in China. It falls on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month annually. It is called Yulanpen Festival in Buddhism and Zhongyuan Festival in Taoism. The seventh lunar month is also called Ghost Month.

Halloween, the spooky festival marked by many English-speaking countries, takes place each year on October 31, the eve of the Christian feast called All Hallows' Day. The festival, dedicated to remembering the dead, has developed into an entertaining celebration, and it is one of the most popular festivals among children and adults with its traditions for fooling around.

Let's take a look at what different folk customs the Hungry Ghost Festival and Halloween feature.

China's Ghost Festival

According to legend, ghosts and spirits, including those of deceased ancestors, would come out from the lower realms at this time. Distinct from both Qingming Festival (in spring) and Double Ninth Festival (in autumn), during which living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, in Ghost Festival, the deceased were believed to visit the living.

For celebrations, both Buddhists and Taoists perform rituals to expiate the sins and sufferings of the deceased. Ordinary people usually worship their ancestors by preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, burning joss paper and miniature paper material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors.

People light lanterns in Ghost Festival in China

In recent years, with the growing awareness of environmental protection, more and more people would like to offer flowers or online sacrifices to pay respect to their ancestors while carrying forward the ghost culture.

In addition, floating river lanterns is also practiced widely. People set lotus flower-shaped lanterns on the river, leaving them to drift freely and release the souls in the river from purgatory.


It was held by some that the spirits of the deceased would come back to earth to look for bodies for themselves. In order to avoid getting deprived of life, people would light a torch and dress with various flora and fauna decorations to scare away the ghosts and spirits.

The Jack-o'-Lantern, a carved pumpkin lantern, is one of the symbols of Halloween. Featuring a scary face, it is used to frighten away the wandering souls. It is common to see pumpkins on doorsteps or otherwise used as decorations prior to and on Halloween.

Plus, the Halloween costume party is also a symbolic celebration. Young people wear various bizarre dresses, beautiful or fearsome.

People wear crazy costumes for Halloween

Trick-or-treating is another popular Halloween tradition. Children clad in Halloween costumes travel from house to house asking for treats such as candy, with the custom of saying "Trick or treat!" If adults refuse them, children play pranks on the person they're visiting.

Telling scary stories and watching horror films are also common Halloween activities, especially for youth, to enjoy a fresh experience on the special occasion.



(Source: anhuinews.com/Translated and edited by Women of China)