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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class- Holidays in Hong Kong Series at CantoneseClass101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind holidays and observances in Hong Kong. I’m Eric, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 7- Ghost Festival, or 盂蘭節 in Cantonese.
In Chinese mythology, the gates of hell open during the seventh month of the Lunar calendar, which enables wandering souls and ghosts from the underworld to come to the world of the living. The 15th of the seventh month of the Lunar calendar is considered the peak time for this. In Hong Kong, this season is still celebrated as the Ghost festival.
Now, before we get into more detail, I've got a question for you- What religion is the Ghost Festival based on?
If you don't already know, you’ll find out a bit later, so keep listening!
During the Ghost Festival, some people worship their ancestors, or 祖先, at home as a display of filial piety, as well as to pray for their ancestors' blessing.
Some people also burn incense, joss paper and sacrificial offerings on the roadside. This is done in order to appease the wandering souls in the hopes that they do not become hungry ghosts. It is also done for the sake of appeasing the grudges of those who died unjustly to help them rest in peace.
Some people in Hong Kong think that this festival is absurd, but in Cantonese, there's a saying that goes, 寧可信其有,不可信其無, which means "better believe it than ignore it". Another tip is that Hong Kong people usually use the phrase "dirty things" or 污糟嘢 when referring to ghosts, or 鬼. For example, whey they want to say “I see ghosts,” they say "I see dirty things," or in Cantonese 我見到污糟嘢.
There are many taboos during this ghost-related month. First, don't stay up late or be out too late in the night, because ghosts' powers are thought to be strongest in the middle of the night. If you stay out too late, it is believed that you’ll be influenced by ghosts. Second, don't walk too close to the wall, because ghosts like to lean against them. Third, don't open your umbrella indoors. This is because opening umbrellas indoors is proper etiquette when paying respect to the dead, and if you do so, it will invite ghosts into the house.
Fourth, don't go swimming at night. This is because it's easy for ghosts to pull on your legs. Fifth, don't get married, travel, or move around the season. In short, don't do any important things. Also, lastly, if you see any insects 昆蟲 flying into your house, don’t kill them or shoo them out, because they’re believed to be the deceased family members coming back to visit.
Talking about ghosts, we need to talk about Yama, or 閻羅王 in Cantonese. This is the name of the king of the underworld, who guards the gate of hell. Yama has the "book of life and death" that records all men's lifespans. He has subordinates called Ox-Head and Horse-Face or 牛頭馬面 who escort the soul to the underworld after death.
Now it's time to answer our quiz question-
What religion is the Ghost Festival based on?
Regarding the origin of the Ghost Festival, there are actually two theories: One says Buddhism, and another says Taoism, which is 道教 in Cantonese. Both religions have records of the festival and particular ceremonies. During the Tang dynasty, the Ghost Festival was even celebrated in mixed customs.
How was this lesson? Did you learn anything interesting?
Is there a holiday similar to the Ghost Festival in your country?
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We'll see you next time!