When I went to pick up my supper and lunch boxes from Mr. Wu tonight, I showed him the photos that I had taken during my walk this afternoon.
After looking at several images, he began to chuckle–and when I asked him why, he said, “Because Chinese do not like ghosts!”
All of the pictures I showed him did indeed show benignly happy ghosties and ghoulies.
I asked him to tell me more about how Chinese view ghosts, and he told me that in China there is an entire month devoted to the ghosts of
ancestors whose spirits are released from the spirit world, and apparently, they arrive hungry.
He tells me that no one wants to do anything that would upset these starving ghosts, so there are no marriages, no one buys a house, and no one makes any business deals. One doesn’t begin anything new because the fear is that the visiting ghosts will wreak some sort of mischief that will cause the endeavor to end badly.
I thought this whole concept of hordes of hungry ghosts was pretty interesting, since one cannot help but think of the minions of kiddies on the streets tonight, pillowcases in hand, looking for treats and supposedly ready for tricks. And yet I have never heard this Chinese custom mentioned in relation to our Halloween tradition. As to Ghost Month, Mr. Wu says that it is like many of the old customs and traditions of old China, and is an old way
that is falling out of favor with new generations. Mainly he says because it doesn’t make any sense, and also because a lot of people believe in Christianity. His mom still follows the custom and observes tradition by following the superstitions that dictate taking great care as one goes about ones activities during Ghost Month.
In contrast, we have candied-up our own Halloween traditions.
Our ancestors, if they came trooping back, might not be hungry, but they sure would be surprised to see how commercially successful Halloween has become.
My walk today was made so much more interesting because of the many decorative touches that celebrated themes of Halloween and the harvest season. The decorating efforts of the homeowners demonstrate a generosity of spirit as they provide touches of cheer and beauty to their neighborhoods, and to the children who will revel in the candy coated sweetness of Halloween night.
For me there is a lesson in Mr. Wu’s story of the Hungry Ghosts, for I suppose I have my own hungry ghosts, the memories of my own lost loved ones, and perhaps this has caused me to in a strange way feel an aching hunger that is not physical.
I can see meaning in Chinese Ghost Month, for it allows the human mind to deal with the loss of loved ones, and our desire to make up to them what we wish we had managed to better do in caring for them in this life. I would not have told Adrienne I “needed to run” that last conversation that we had before my trip and her accident.
It isn’t candy corn I needed today, but the sweet kindness I saw all around me while I was on my walk, and I bless and thank my neighbors for their gentle offerings–I arrived home with a bounty of treats that I was happy to share tonight.