Thinking about the relevance of Halloween in American culture today and the older traditions that it stems from, it makes me consider similar traditions from my own Singaporean Chinese culture.
I feel really protective toward traditions that may be considered to just be superstitions, especially those that have supernatural components. I, too, come from people who venerate the dead. In late September, during the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, the gates of hell are flung open, and the month-long Hungry Ghost Festival begins. Ghosts have a free reign of the human realm during this time, and in Singapore, Chinese families will burn them stacks of “hell” money, in denominations of $10,000 and up. Who knew that even in the afterlife, we’d still need to pay for possessions, to worry about our material wealth? Packets of food are stabbed with upright chopsticks and left at the foot of trees, as an indication that they are meant for wandering spirits to enjoy.
My grandmother has an altar year-round in her home, a miscellaneous offering of fruit and incense for Tu Di Gong and Guan Yin – the god of earth and goddess of mercy – and for my late grandfather. I enjoy learning about the little rituals she does, for the beings unseen and for the purpose of keeping her family safe.
When I got old enough to no longer have a curfew, my mother grew increasingly lenient – but would call me around eleven at night, only around the Hungry Ghost Festival, to ask me not to stay out so late. It is for this reason alone that I have no way around believing in ghosts. If my mother thinks there is a reason to be careful, who am I to ignore her? She’ll warn me not to step on the joss sticks, or incense, lining the sidewalks, not to look up in the trees, not to turn around if I hear someone call my name out in the dark. Like living and breathing people, there are ghosts that will pass you without incident, and there are ghosts that will have sinister intentions. I tend to hurry home with my eyes trained towards my feet during the Hungry Ghost month, unwilling to cross paths with the latter.
It is rather reassuring to realize that honoring the dead is a common denominator across many cultures. I enjoy knowing that not everything can be verified or explained, that certain things have to be taken upon faith, and that sometimes you have to get a little spooky.
Hi there! My name is Taina and I live in Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up in Singapore, which is a long way from where I am now. I went to college for writing, and I treasure the opportunity to tell my experiences through the written word. I love eating food from different cultures and going to live music concerts. Having grown up in a compact, dense city, I’ve always taken public transportation but I’ve begun driving for my work commute. I hope this will give me more reason to drive and explore the United States, and share more of my adventures with you.