Ghost Festival - what you should know before traveling to Vietnam
ghost festival

Traveling to Vietnam during Ghost Festival

In Vietnam, festivals usually are the occasion people enjoy their days off via traveling and partying. However, there is a festival in which they have to celebrate it with the ghost. It’s called Vietnam Ghost Festival.

What is the Ghost Festival?

Many holidays and festivals in Vietnam are held on the occasions of the moon, and so is Vietnam Ghost festival. It is an annual festival that takes place in the first half of the seventh lunar month. 

The Vietnamese assume that each person has two parts: the body and the soul. Those will go as one when people live and separate when they die. After being buried, the body will decompose while the soul will be “existing”. The soul can go to heaven, down to hell, or reincarnate another life. However, according to the Vietnamese folk, for some reasons, some souls have nowhere to go. The heaven or hell doesn’t accept them so that that have no choice but roaming around the “present world”. Since they don’t have a family to burn joss paper for them, they have to harass people for food and other essential needs. Therefore, the Vietnamese decided to pick a day and worship for those “hungry souls”, which is called the Ghost Festival.

ghost festival

Ghost Festival is one of the big events in Vietnam.

There is another theory about this Ghost Festival. The Vietnamese people widely believe that on this day, the gate of the hell is open to let the evils from the “lower realm” wander around Earth. On these days, the deceased relatives will find their way back to visit the living descendants. So people will make a feast and burn joss paper for their ancestors.

What do people do during Vietnam Ghost Festival?

The most notable event of this seventh lunar month is on the 15th day, which is the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. The Vietnamese families will prepare two feasts in this day. The first one is usually at noon for their ancestors. The second one is usually in the late afternoon after the sunset for the wandering ghosts. On the other hand, those families running their own business make the second feast as big as possible in the morning or early afternoon. In Southern Vietnam, especially in Ho Chi Minh city, there is a popular costume “offerings robbing”. It is because people assume that those robbers are on behalf of the lost ghosts. Furthermore, they think that the more ghosts enjoying their feast, the more luck and wealth they can earn. So when they finish the worship process, they will let the “living ghosts”, mostly passers-by, jump in and try their best to get as much food and money as possible.

ghost festival

A feast for the wandering ghosts in Ghost Festival.

The Buddhist Festival for family

Besides, Ghost Festival is also an occasion for children to express their love and gratitude for their parents. This event comes from a Buddhist story that Bodhisattva’s managed to save his mother from troubles in hell. However, he accidentally released all the evils in the hell as well. Though it has the same meaning as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day in Western countries, the way the Vietnamese celebrate it is a bit different. On this day, monks usually go to the temples to pray for their parents and worship the lost ghosts. For those families whose parents were gone, the first big feast in noon is for their parents either. The parents and deceased relatives will find the way back by listening to the descendants’ prayer. Vietnamese people believe that their parents will take this opportunity to bless them luck and warn them about bad luck.

ghost festival

Ghost Festival is also an occasion for children to show their love to their parents.

Things not to do during Ghost Festival

The Vietnamese believe that on the seventh lunar month, ghosts wander around and bring trouble to the livings. They blame their bad luck this month on those ghosts. So to reduce the bad luck during Ghost Festival, here are some things the locals mustn’t do in this period:

  • People often restrict from doing major projects or embarking on trips. They always look for a “good day” to do these things and of course, there is no “good day” in a “bad month”.
  • Don’t hang wet washed clothes at night since the ghosts may try on them.
  • Don’t shout out others’ name at night because those ghosts can remember that name and start to follow that person.
  • As a result, don’t reply when you hear someone shouting your name at night. It’s how the ghosts recognize you and start following you.
  • Don’t wax in this time as your leg and arm hair will protect you from evils.
  • Don’t take the photo at night unless you want to save the moment with whom you just meet once a year.
  • Clothes with images of bones, skulls, blood, etc are prohibited. It’s because they may mistake you for their “teammates” and try to bring you back to hell when the festival ends.
  • Don’t pick up small change on the street. It could be the money offered to the ghosts and you definitely don’t want to rob anything from them. However, if it’s a large currency bill, you should pick it up and hand in the police.
  • Don’t buy white clothes or have white tailor-made suits in this month. White clothes are for funerals.