Image originally found here.
It’s that time of year again: when the Gates of Hell are wide open, and ghosts stream out from the underworld. Today marks the Hungry Ghost Festival (zhōng yuán jié 中元節), the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar year, when hungry ghosts stalk the living in search of sustenance.
Celebrated across Asia, including in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore, the Hungry Ghost festival has its origins in Buddhist traditions. It is believed that throughout the seventh month, also known as Ghost Month, the borders between the underworld and the human world are open so that the dead can visit the living. During the Hungry Ghost Festival, both honored ancestors and stray ghosts without families are presented with offerings—you wouldn’t want to anger any spirits that happened to cross your path!
How should you fend off hungry ghosts? Sacrificial altars may be set up on the road, with incense and food offerings to appease the starving souls. Burn joss paper and fake money for both the ancestors and any unlucky wandering spirits that might pass by. Avoid walking out in the dark or by bodies of water—the ghosts of those who died by drowning are said to be especially cursed. Paper boats and lanterns are also released on waterways to guide lost spirits back home.
Ghost Month ends on September 15th, when the Gates of Hell close and the ghosts return to the underworld.