I noticed some peculiarities today on my afternoon outing… more incense in the air, offerings assembled more frequently, paper strewn about and giant open bonfires in the middle of the central business district. What, pray tell, is going on?

Oh, of course! It’s the Hungry Ghost Festival. It happens once a year on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar — that night is tonight and the festival (more like an observance) is tomorrow, August 31st.

I asked several locals about its significance and I sort of got an answer — something about warding off spirits and conjuring good luck. Upon further research, I learned that on this day ghosts supposedly roam the world of the living so people make offerings of food and entertainment to appease them. People also burn joss sticks, fake money and paper versions of material goods to ensure continued blessings from the world beyond. These offerings are made in front of homes and businesses to keep the ghosts from coming inside. A big bonfire often signals the end, or the send off as the ghosts depart the living world.

Here’s the offering that was being made in front of our building tonight — food, joss sticks and ghost money burners. I will certainly wander over to Chinatown tomorrow and see what grand offerings are being made around the temples.

So there you have it — a few reasons why things look a little different around here on this particular day. But then again, we already knew this day was special.

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