Hungry Ghost Month
All throughout the Hungry Ghost Month, the Chinese offer prayers to departed souls and seek for protection against misfortune and tragedy from the King of Hades.
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The Hungry Ghost Month carries the same significance to the Chinese as Halloween does to the West. During the Chinese 7th lunar month, the gates to the underworld are opened and all the souls from this realm are allowed to roam the face of the earth for food. The Chinese believe that if these hungry ghosts are not appeased, they will bring bad luck to their families. Prayers are offered to the King of Hades and the many other deities associated to death and the Underworld for protection against misfortune and untimely events. Chinese families will offer offer food and prayers to their departed kin, asking for their blessing and protection in return. Some families will even set up a place on the dinner table for the deceased during this month. It is also common to see small offerings of either fruits or sweets and joss sticks left at corners of streets for homeless spirits during this month.
For one whole month, the joy of frolicking around with neighborhood kids is short-lived as young children are strongly encouraged to stay outdoors as dusk sets. No unnecessary outings at night unless it is really important, no trips to beaches for picnics and extra care is taken during conversations, especially at night. These are some common reminders often handed down to children during the Chinese 7th lunar month. Thought it may seem a little extreme, the older generation of Chinese feel that these precautions ensure the safety of children from 'unseen' guests. The elders believe that though not all wandering spirits are bad, there are some which will cause children who are spiritually weaker to fall ill. Weddings or any other auspicious events are never held during this month as most believe that it will turn out to be otherwise.
Though the supposed day when the gates open falls on the 14th day of the lunar month, prayers and performances are carried out throughout the whole month. As with all of the different types of festivals in Malaysia, it is common to see locals coming together during this time to offer prayers for the protection of the entire community. These community celebrations are known as Por Thor, or the Hungry Ghost Festival. A makeshift shrine honouring the King of Hades is erected, and offerings of meat and produce are placed by members of the community for the departed souls. Entertainment, traditionally Chinese opera and puppet theatre, is also a key feature in the celebration, allowing the community to come together to enjoy the festivities. At the end of the celebration, the community throws a big banquet dinner to mark the successful close of the prayers and to give thanks for the divine protection that they receive.