Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Feeding a Hungry Ghost

A woman lights incense at a small shrine in front of her Chinatown shop on Hungry Ghost day in Bangkok. 

Bangkok has a large Chinese community and Chinese beliefs are freely woven into Thai culture. Chinese holidays, like Lunar New Year and Hungry Ghost Month are important holidays here, even if they're not official state holidays. The Ghost Festival is on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month (usually August). 

On the day of the Ghost Festival (celebrated on Aug 17 in Bangkok this year) it's believed that the realms of heaven and hell open and ghosts walk the earth. It's not unlike the "Day of the Dead" holiday as it's practiced in Mexico. 
A man burns "Ghost Money" (or, in this case, "Ghost Gold") in Chinatown. Burning "ghost money" or other paper maché items like clothes, cars and consumer goods, is common. People burn things the spirits can use in the after life. 

In Chinese communities in Thailand, people start burning ghost money in the middle of the morning. The offerings are burnt in barrels in front of their homes and sometimes on the street. Shops close early, usually around mid-day, people set up shrines for their loved ones and lay out elaborate buffets. I've read that vegetarian food is the norm, but in Thailand, there is almost always a suckling pig or other pork, chicken and sometimes duck. Families partake in the feast but leave empty seats for the deceased.
A woman set up the ghost buffet in front of her home in Chinatown. 

While Mexico's Day of the Dead, is celebrated largely at night, the Ghost Festival is celebrated during the day because it's thought that the ghosts are out at night and you could fall victim to a malevolent spirit if you're not careful. 

I think Ghost Festival is interesting. I've photographed it three or four times now. The first time, I was wandering around in Chinatown, unaware of the holy day, and saw people burning the offerings, closing their shops and setting up the buffets. It was midweek and I didn't know what was going on, so I asked and a shopkeeper told me it was Hungry Ghost day. Internet research filled in the rest of the blanks. 
Setting up the buffet at a Chinese bakery in Bangkok's Chinatown. 

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