Thursday, August 18, 2011

week 48_Ghost Festival (bai-bai 拜拜)

The month of August is traditionally known as the ghost festival in Chinese culture [technically it is not always the month of August, but a specific period on the lunar calendar, which usually falls around that time]. The ghost festival is a time to remember and respect all of the ghosts past - who are said to pay a visit at this time. As usual, I think that Wikipedia can probably explain the holiday better than I can...

But I did get to experience my very own bai-bai ceremony first hand. :) For the ghost festival, and many other occasions, the Chinese present incense and bow in prayer. The prayer may be long, sometimes the person holds the incense to the sky during this part. Then the pray-er bows his or her head in multiple quick nods (2 to 3... maybe sometimes more) before placing the incense in a bowl of rice, at an altar-like table. It reminds me of the Catholic traditions of crossing your body, bowing your head, and lighting a candle at the church altar.

Yours Truly, placing my incense in the rice
For the ghost festival, large tables are placed in front of businesses (and possibly homes too?) covered in food and drinks for the ghosts. Everything is offered up, and during a second round of incense, the incense is actually placed on the goodies offering them up to the ghosts and the gods.

Incense placed on the offerings...
Yes those are Chips Ahoy cookies peeking out at me!
The food is offered to spirits in hopes that they will avoid visiting individual homes. The table at our office was absolutely overflowing with fruits, candy, sodas, juice boxes, tea, cookies, crackers, noodles, and on and on! In addition to all of the consumables, paper money is also burned as an offering. Yes... apparently money is key, even in the afterlife!

Paper Money
Tin at front for burning the paper money,
Tables loaded with offerings, behind
 The bai-bai (prayer) was performed in rounds. First round mid afternoon, another round later, money burning all the while. The actual time spent was small for most employees, but our administrative staff stayed watch over the table, burned money, and reminded us when it was time to once again bai-bai. We office in a high rise building, so each time we would load up all elevators to maximum capacity and herd down to the building entrance, just outside the doors.

Surely the ghosts were please with this feast! Yum!
After all of the offerings and prayers, all food was brought inside at the end of the day for us to share! I didn't realize we would each be partaking in the spoils as well - but I now officially have a snack drawer at my desk! (never did before) Who knew the ghost's needs would so bountifully overflow into my personal cabinet... and they like many American foods?!

My ghost festival stash.
As you may imagine, the office was in particularly good spirits yesterday. Me too. I think this was one of my favorite holidays yet - maybe because I was able to participate, or maybe just because all of the treats were like Christmas in August! Some of my co-workers were concerned... Do I bai-bai? Really? But for me, it was simply an opportunity to pray, reflect, observe, and to soak in the rich Taiwanese culture once again. :)

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