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14 Tips for observing Ghost Festival day in Taiwan

14 Dos and don'ts for worshiping on Hungry Ghost Day in Taiwan

(Illustration by Ying Fan Chen)

(Illustration by Ying Fan Chen)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Today (Aug. 15) is the Ghost Festival in Taiwan, a time when many Taiwanese provide offerings and prayers to their ancestors, gods, and ghosts.

The Ghost Festival (鬼節 or 中元節) falls on the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunisolar calendar, the halfway mark of Ghost Month (鬼月), which in this case is Aug. 15. It is believed by devout Taoists and Buddhists that during this time of year the gates of hell are opened for a full month for hungry ghosts to roam the world of the living in search of food, money, entertainment, and possibly souls.

Offerings typically given on this day include rice wine, fruits, chicken, pork, and fish, snacks, incense, and joss paper. Gold joss paper is burned for the gods, while silver joss paper is burned for ghosts.

The following are 14 tips on worshiping on Ghost Festival day posted by Yahoo Kimo:

1. Speak cautiously

One should exercise caution with the words used out of respect for the dead. Instead of saying "ghost," refer to the spirits as "Good Brothers."

2. Don't pray at noon

Yang energy is too strong during the morning hours, which is considered unfavorable to Good Brothers. It is best to pray between 2 p.m. to dusk.

3. Worship outside

Offerings for spirits should be placed outside to avoid having them come indoors. Those who live or work in an apartment building should place offerings outside of the ground floor entrance.

4. Don't burn too much joss paper

Just burn a little bit of joss paper, not too much. Burning too much joss paper will make the ghosts think they will be served daily at that location, and they will tend to linger around.

5. Don't write full name on pennant

At group gatherings, many people pin a pennant to inform spirits that a given offering is from them. It is recommended to write one's surname on the pennant, but not the full name and address. Otherwise, Good Brothers may follow them home.

6. Keep small children away

Some believe that children's spirits are less stable and easily disturbed by ghosts. If small children become boisterous near offering tables, it might attract unwanted attention from Good Brothers.

7. Don't steal offerings

Good Brothers have been waiting for a whole year to have a feast, so it is advisable not to steal their food. Just as it is rude to snatch food off the plate of a living person, so it is likewise for the afterlife.

8. Don't share items with Good Brothers

Items such as towels, water, and other items offered to the spirits should not be reused. Some believe it could bring bad luck, while from a practical standpoint after sitting in the scorching hot sun, many items will have deteriorated anyway.

9. Flowers must be in full bloom

Only use flowers that have fully opened for offerings. Do not offer Gladiolus flowers, as Good Brothers are repelled by them.

10. Open up packages of offerings

Do not leave a large package offering still wrapped in plastic. Otherwise, one Good Brother will take the whole thing and could lead to a fight with other Good Brothers, which would definitely be a bad omen.

11. Don't set off fireworks

Do not set off fireworks on this day. Fireworks would scare the spirits away and may make it difficult for them to find their way back home.

12. Sprinkle wine around burner

After burning joss paper, place the water or wine in a glass that is meant for spirits and empty it in a circular pattern around the burner three times. This represents a successful ending to the ceremony and leads the soul to the world of bliss.

13. Don't offer wrong fruits

Beware of offering the wrong kinds of fruits to Good Brothers. Pineapple is considered a bad choice because the Taiwanese pronunciation for pineapple (鳳梨) sounds like the word 旺來, which means thriving or prosperity.

The fear is that giving the spirits pineapple would cause them to thrive in the world of the living unabated. In addition, bananas, plums, and pears are not offered either, because the Taiwanese pronunciation for these fruits sounds like "I invite you to come" (蕉 = 招, 李 = 你, 梨 = 來).

14. Cleanse with wormwood

After making offerings to wandering spirits, it is recommended that one add some wormwood or hibiscus leaves in the bathtub when bathing. This is believed to remove the bad Qi energy that builds up during Ghost Month.