By Melody Teh
The gates of hell are open, unleashing hungry ghosts into our world. According to Chinese tradition, the seventh lunar month, which began on August 7, is when restless souls of the dead roam the earth. To appease these spirits, a Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated, where prayers are chanted, elaborate meals are offered and wads of fake money are burned.
It’s not a festival widely celebrated in Sydney, but Roseville residents Simon and Sara Tong felt so strongly about continuing this tradition that honours the dead, they opened their home to the community on Sunday 17th August for a Hungry Ghost Festival.
“The festival is a time to honour memories of lost loved ones and to pay respect to all who have passed away, especially those who died in difficult circumstances,” Sara Tong says. “Those are the hungry ghosts, who are restless and hungry because they have no family to return to and nobody to remember them.”
A diverse mix of people from a range of ethnicities and religious backgrounds met at the Tong’s home to share in the ancient tradition.
“What it’s really all about is respect and compassion,” said participant Andrew Halliday. “I try not to think of just one person because for me, it’s about honouring all those who have been here before us.”
Resident Mona Saouma was particularly drawn to the tradition of honouring the dead. “We all have people who have passed away and I think we need to respect them,” she says.
However, one visitor had a different reason to attend the festival.
“It’s a bit selfish, really,” Tony Koroman says, with a smile. “One day I will be dead, so I want to know that someday someone will be thinking of me.”
The Hungry Ghost Festival ended with a vegetarian feast, which saw everybody come together to enjoy a meal, but also reflect as a group on all those who have passed on.
“Hopefully now the hungry ghosts are satisfied and happy,” says Sara Tong.