Article and Photos by Denisse Erin Co
Edited by Regiena Siy and Caitlin Anne Young
Every 15th day of the seventh lunar month, traditional Chinese beliefs hold that the gates of hell open to allow ghosts to wander among the living. Often referred to as Ghost Day, which takes place in the midst of the month-long Ghost Month, this is when the portals between realms are at their weakest. The ghosts of deceased relatives visit their families and feast on offerings; the families of these ghosts offer delicious food and burn incense in an effort to appease the dead and spare the living from supposed bad luck.
But that’s not all. To take precautions against ghosts following them, the Chinese would hold their breath on life-changing decisions: starting a new job, signing important contracts, and proposing to one’s significant other, among others.
This year, Ghost Day fell on September 2. Since I was a child, I remember being told to stop wearing dark colors, to keep from knocking on walls and other hard surfaces, and to avoid moving around furniture.
In 2020, this month-long event started on August 19 and ended on September 16. Over the span of those 28 days, several things happened to me: I started an internship, took on different roles in my organizations, and began a business. With me going against tradition, it’s evident that I don’t really believe in these superstitions. After all, what can dead things do to me?
Despite my incredulity, however, my family still insists on taking precautions. These measures used to be easily avoided, with me carrying out menial tasks. However, while quarantining with my family, these various rules and restrictions became difficult to follow. I’m an active person who enjoys tidying things up and moving furniture around, and being stuck in one place for an extended period of time made it really hard for me to cope.
During this pandemic, time has become synonymous to waiting, as it remains irrelevant until something actually happens. We are required by law to stay put until it’s over, and the past 187 days have somehow felt like an extended Ghost Month. After all, just like the festival, we are restricted in our actions and told not to do things.
This pandemic has forced us to restrict social gatherings, reducing bustling areas to shells of what they once were. We are stuck here, living but not really. Are the “safety measures” against Ghost Month actually going to benefit us in the long run? This 2020 has been a chain of mishaps and disappointment. I can’t imagine what other misfortunes ghosts can bestow upon us.
It’s always been a tradition to take precautions during Ghost Month, but despite the centuries of Chinese people recognizing its hazards, they never found it deterrent. Things still went along despite the restrictions, and the precautions they took only allowed them to develop patience, cultivate their ability to adapt, and grow in personal reflection. With that, our currently-quarantined selves should realize that despite our limitations, we can and should still pursue things with caution.
When my brother bought a new study table, we were unsure of whether we should move furniture around or leave it be. Our cautious side told us not to move anything, but we needed to get it done before classes started or else we wouldn’t have had time anymore. We kept saying we’ll just pray over it, but still we were unsure of our decision. In the end, we chose to overlook the Ghost Month protocols and set up the new study table.
Taking precautions are important. They are there for a reason, but this pandemic has taught us to compromise. And if the Ghost Month protocols force us into further stand still, then it’s something we should forgo in the meantime. We have to take matters in our own hands and look at how our actions are part of a bigger picture.
This thinking reflects Gestalt theory wherein the whole is more than the sum of its parts; in this case, it’s best to keep looking on to the future, rather than dwell on the past and present. Maybe we see things as useless now, but our actions now will have a big impact in the future. Even if we are hindered by ghosts, and COVID-19, we can still take precautions to allow us to continue moving forward.