Ghost month party

In the seventh month of the lunar calendar, I remember my grandmother would always prepare a table of delicious food, and offer a meal to the ghosts. The ghosts or spirits included our family's ancestors, the gods of the land, and any other lesser ghosts that dwelled in the area – all were invited.

However, as a small child, I honestly had great doubts about this tradition. I watched very carefully, but I wasn't so sure if the ghosts and spirits really came to eat the meal. Every time, my grandmother would put all the food out nicely on the table, but as far as I could see there was no sign that the ghosts were eating it. In fact, it looked like it hadn't been touched at all.

Although the offering to the ghosts was a mystery to me, the gathering afterward was always fun! It was like a party. All my grandma's daughters would visit with their children, so there were lots of people: adults catching up on the latest gossip, and kids playing. The highlight was that we got to eat all the delicious food that the ghosts apparently hadn't touched.

After my grandma passed away, we didn't seem to enjoy this kind of celebration any more. My father's family are Christians, and they don't like these old rituals. So, for me this traditional family gathering was lost for a long time.

Earlier this summer, my mother passed away. It's a big loss in my life. Suddenly, I can understand why my grandma spent all day preparing and cooking an offering to our ancestors.

It was easy to see what to do. I called all my sisters and said that I would have a offering ceremony to our mother, ancestors, and ghosts. We all agreed to do this together.

We decided to have the ritual on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, as most people traditionally do. The 7th lunar month falls mostly in August. We also invited all the family and many friends to have a gathering to enjoy the meal.

My mother liked red bean dessert, so we cooked the red bean sweet soup like our mother taught us when we were little. Our family also has some western ancestors from Europe about 100 years ago, so I thought it would be a good idea to prepare some sandwiches to worship them as well. But mostly we prepared Taiwanese style food, like rice, soup, taro cake, stir-fried dishes, tea and so on.

When I was preparing the offerings, I remembered how my grandma had done it, so many years ago, and tried to follow her example She did the shopping, and cooked all the dishes in her tiny kitchen. It was extremely hot in the middle of summer, but finally the table was full of freshly cooked dishes. I wished that she could come to my party too.

At 11:30am, we had already finished cooking the food, and preparing the table. When we're worshiping ancestors, the most important thing is to show respect. We arranged everything neatly with the food, bowls, chopsticks, cups lined up on the table. I like to believe that if I prepare the offering sincerely, then the ancestors will come and accept my gratitude to them.

To start the ceremony, we lit some incense, and prayed to the ancestors and the ghosts. We said our thanks, an incantation and invited them to enjoy the meal.

You might have a question like I did when I was little. Did the spirits really come to eat the offerings? In Asian culture, such as Buddhist and Taoist, they believe that the ghosts enjoy the food by enjoying its fragrance, so they don't actually eat any. Any way, I do hope they came to enjoy the meal!

My family and friends had a long party all day, enjoying the food. This is the first time I've done this ceremony in my home. It actually created a wonderful atmosphere – we had a reason to be together and enjoy the food.

I thought this might be a good way to be reconnected with my mother again, and show gratitude to our ancestors and bring them comfort.

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