Hungry Ghosts Festival

In Vietnam, the Ghost Festival is viewed as the time for the pardoning of condemned souls who are then released from hell.

Culture & Heritage | Faith & Spirituality


Vietnamese families will prepare two feasts during the day. The first one is offered early, usually at noon, to ancestors. The second one, often offered sometime after sunset, is meant for the lost souls. People sometimes go to temples to pray to deceased relatives, while monks ask Buddha to forgive condemned souls that have committed sins in their human days and are cursed to be hungry ghosts. Many people also bring offering to the temples and donate for the purpose of feeding these ghosts. After the monks finish their prayers, people are encouraged to act the part of the ghosts and fight for the food. It is a day that everyone eases up and forgives the sinful souls. For their sins, these poor ghosts are already cursed to never be full again – they are pictured to have long pencil-thin necks and huge bellies. (Not to mention that food in hell is probably not that good either!)

For many in Vietnam, it is common belief that living children should burn hell bank notes and joss paper to offer ancestors. These notes are believed to hold value in the afterlife, which is just a mirror image of this world. These days, the commodities include the latest techs and the most modern devices, from iphone to all types of vehicle and even entire houses. Upon the feast of the Festival, often at the end of the day, it is time for the fire to carry the goods to the other side. Depending on the regions, either at the end of July or right after the Festival, people will also light up lotus-shaped lanterns to guide the ghosts back in the afterlife. These lanterns are floated on rivers in great number, and when their light burns out, it is then that the ghosts have found their way back. These practices vary vastly by regions, for even the dates for the Festival differ greatly among countries.