AP PHOTOS: Hungry ghosts descend on Chinese homes

The Associated Press
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In this Tuesday Aug. 20, 2013 photo, a Chinese opera actress puts on make-up at a makeshift theater during the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in Hong Kong. The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated during the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar. During the month-long festival, usually in the summer, Chinese people make offerings of food, "Hell money," and paper-made models of items such as televisions, servants and sport cars are burnt to appease the wandering spirits. It is believed that the gates of hell are opened during the month and the dead ancestors return to visit their relatives. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

 The gates of hell have opened. Its ghosts have been let loose to roam on earth and visit the homes of their relatives.

According to traditional Chinese beliefs this happens every year during the seventh month of the lunar year, resulting in a raucous, feast-and-music filled celebration known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. But not all ghosts are good. There are some spirits who wander the streets, ravenous and envious because they died without descendants or were ignored by their kin while alive.

To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world.

For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit.

People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month — the most auspicious — families offer cooked food to the ghosts.  

Here's a gallery of images from this year's Hungry Ghost Festival by Hong Kong photographer Vincent Yu.