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    Ghost Festival 鬼节

    The last couple of nights, just after dark, and again today a little earlier, I smelled something burning. A quick look out my window showed about a dozen people standing in a circle around a small fire carefully burning things. One would feed the fire, wait for the flames to die down, then someone else would then do the same. Asked a local friend, and it turns out it to be 鬼节, one of several annual Ghost Festivals. This one, to be more precise, is 中元节。I've noticed the same business in years past but had not marked the exact date. Seems it is 七月半, about halfway through the seventh lunar month. People buy specially-printed paper money ("spirit money") and printed images of necessities as well as luxury goods to burn on behalf of deceased relatives to assure them of a more comfortable afterlife. Papier-mache ingots of gold and silver are sacrificed this way, as are "fake" automobiles and even fancy mobile phones. My local farmers market has several specialty stalls where such items are available. Families will usually prepare a special evening meal, leaving an empty place set for the deceased loved one. The whole ritual has to do with veneration of ancestors. I understand that similar customs are prevalent in other Asian countries as well as China. Apparently the practice is loosely based on Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. I live in an older section of Kunming. Have you noticed this where you live? Or some variation of it?
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