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Hungry Ghosts
(Phor Thor Festival)

Ben van Wijnen

"The build up to this festive date begins roughly a week before. Chinese Opera's and Chinese Puppet Shows are put together for audiences - the living and the non-living alike, at Temples and certain Chinese Associations for a week prior to the big day. These performances are more rampant in towns and villages that are more Chinese (as in race) dominated, like in Penang, Perak, Malacca etc."

The legend.

In the month of August (that's the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar)  the Chinese believe, that the gates of hell will open. 
The dead souls (the Hungry Ghosts) will be released and roam the streets of the living in this month. Children and young toddlers should be kept from going out of the house, because the "Hungry Ghosts" could lure them to the kingdom of the dead. 
Having a wedding or moving to another house during this period is considered as bad luck and should never be practiced.
And God forbid that one should die during  this month!
Going to the beach for example, would not be allowed, because many tragedies have  taken place in the sea, and evil ghosts may  be eager to take more lives!

The festival of the Hungry Ghosts is celebrated in great scale by the Chinese in Penang. There are many makeshift altars and stages put up along various roads in Georgetown.
During this period, which is especially prominent during the 14th and 15th day of the Chinese seventh month, devotees will prepare glorious food to give that to the dead souls. 

The Chinese will ‘invite’ their dead relatives for a meal and burn joss sticks, hell money in surprisingly large denominations, daily essentials of paper clothes, shoes, TV, radio, and even cars and other luxuries. Such practice is done to ensure that their present generation and generations to come would be blessed, and free from any imminent harm.
All ghosts must be fed and entertained. 
Another aspect of this celebration among the Chinese community everywhere, would be the stage operas and other musical performances, said to provide entertainment for these dead souls. Such is the grandeur of the occasion and regarded closely by many.

The 30th day of the seventh moon is the last day of the festival .At midnight, the ghosts return to Hades and the gates are shut after them. Paper deities, money, and other goodies are burnt in a giant bonfire as a final gift.
There are many places where the food, that they offered, is then given to the poor.

The Chinese will resume their daily activities after this period. With a sense of relief and ease, faced with the confidence that they have fulfilled their duties towards their dead ancestors.




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