Hungry Ghost Festival: 7 activities to avoid, from photography to swimming

Taina Puddefoot

Ward off any unwanted visitors tonight – and for the rest of the month – by avoiding these superstitious acts

Taina Puddefoot |

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During the Hungry Ghost Festival, you can burn paper versions of everyday items for your deceased relatives to use.

Lock your doors and windows: the Hungry Ghost Festival (Yu Lan Festival) is upon us. On this night – the 15th night of Ghost Month – we can expect to see peak supernatural activity.

Ghost month takes place during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, which this year runs from August 1-29. Taoists and Buddhists believe that during this month, the gates of hell are opened for “hungry ghosts” to roam the land of the living, searching for food, money, entertainment, and (possibly!) souls.

What you need to know about the Yu Lan Ghost Festival

Hungry ghosts are the spirits of those who have died, but are not at peace. This may be because they committed a wrongdoing while living, were not given a proper burial after death, or are not being “fed” enough offerings by their descendents.

To make sure that no bad luck befalls you tonight – or for the rest of the month – here are some activities to avoid.

The first rule of Hungry Ghost Festival: Don't talk about Hungry Ghost Festival

It may cause offence to them – and you really wouldn’t want that.

Don’t go swimming

During the ghost month, spirits of those who have drowned will actively look for someone to take their place. So if you happen to be swimming or doing water activities, they might try to pull you under the water!

Behind the scenes at the Hungry Ghost Festival: how the living dedicate a month to honouring the dead

Don’t leave clothes outside to dry

A ghost might try them on and leave behind its negative energy, giving you bad luck.

Don’t take photos at night

Or you might capture a spirit in your photograph.

During the Hungry Ghost Festival, you can burn paper versions of everyday items for your deceased relatives to use.
Photo: Reuters/Jason Lee

Don’t leave external doors open at night

It is an invitation for ghosts to enter your house.

Don’t urinate on a tree

Not that this is acceptable at any time of the year, but it’s an especially bad idea during Ghost Month, as spirits often hide inside trees. This is why it’s also a good idea to stay away from the woods at night.

Don’t leave your chopsticks standing upright in your bowl of food

Aside from being bad table manners, sticking your chopsticks in your food makes them resemble the joss stick offerings to the dead. Hungry ghosts may mistake your food for offerings and take over your body to consume it, indirectly cursing you.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge