Comparing the Chinese Ghost Festival with Halloween PDF Print E-mail


2009.8.26.  Fo Guang Temple (7)We tried to compare these two festivals from different perspectives, and hope to find some interesting similarities and differences.  In the following, we would like to share our opinions with you.  You are also welcome to contribute your ideas or give us your feedback.




1. Both were closely related to religious beliefs.  The Chinese Ghost Month was an imported item from Buddhism, and later Taoists joined the observance, aiming to redeem all the ghosts, and send them back to Hell.  Originated from the Celtic festival ‘Samhain’, Halloween was Christianised, and connected to the All Saints (Hallows) Day in a later age.


2. Participants of both festivals believe that ghosts are spirits of dead people that live in some other spaces where we cannot see or touch, or never notice.  However, ghosts are believed to wander back to the Earth at a certain time when its barriers are at the weakest point, that is, the 14th or 15th of the 7th Chinese lunar calendar in the East, and 31 October in the West.


3. Participants of both festivals believe that ghosts and spirits are not very friendly towards humans, which is why people have all kinds of activities to keep them away, and send them back to their own world.




1. These two festivals follow different evolution paths.  In short, the Chinese Ghost Month originated from Buddhist traditions, and experienced the integration of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism; today it remains a very religious observance within Chinese culture areas.  Halloween, by contrast, jumped from pagan to Christian, and then to secular; although many traditional activities are inherited, its theme has changed to fun and carnival.  Again, this difference indicates the cultural stability in Eastern societies, and the conceptual variability and flexibility in the Western world after the Middle Ages.


2. Participants have different attitudes towards ghosts and these two festivals.  “Ghosts?  They are scary!”  “It is not lucky to talk about ghosts!”  These may be some common answers if you ask a Chinese to comment on ghosts.  Some Chinese people are so scared of ghosts that they dare not even mention that word!  And that may be the reason why they respect them, and try to maintain the harmony between ghosts and human beings.  They take the Ghost Month observance as a very important and serious event, and avoid going outside, especially along rivers, during the festival.  Very differently, Western people dress trendily to scare the ghosts away rather than please them.  Now Halloween has been successfully transformed to a full-of-fun carnival with plenty of dressing up, games and parties, which is completely out of imagination in traditional Chinese ideas.


3. Celebrations of these two festivals are also different.  The Chinese Ghost Month is mainly observed amongst Chinese people; overseas observances are organised by Chinese communities or religious groups.  By contrast, Halloween is worldwide spread with more and more local people organising their own festivities, for instance, Easterners started to celebrate Halloween since about 50 years ago, sometimes without any understanding of its origin.  The popularity of Halloween well demonstrates that fun and happiness is an eternal universal interest: finally Eastern people could relax themselves, and enjoy costumes, games and parties in the name of ghosts!