Elements of Intangible Cultural Heritage

    Yu Lan (Hungry Ghost Feast)



    The origin of Yu Lan (Hungry Ghost Feast) is related with the tale of “Mulian Rescues His Mother”, known in the Chinese version as the so-called Yulanpen Sutra, which tells a story of gratitude and filial piety that is intimately connected with moral and ethic principles that are central in Chinese traditional beliefs. This celebration is very popular, not only in China, but also in Chinese overseas communities, where a variety of practices with religious and local characteristics developed, integrating characteristics that are unique to each place where they are located. The main theme of the practices on this day corresponds to worship rituals, including food offerings to console the ancestors and the deceased (or so-called lost souls/ghosts), believing that if they can be satisfied, they will not disturb the life or the family of those living. Among local Chinese community of Macao, the day of this feast falls on the 14th day of the seventh lunar month, noting that the month of July is considered as the Ghost Month.


    Conservation Status:

    The Yu Lan (Hungry Ghost Feast) is a traditional festival that is celebrated by the Chinese community of Macao. The customs and rituals of this feast are both traditional and very diverse. In addition to the religious activities that are held in local temples, there are also small gestures that are made in public, by initiative of some of the residents themselves. On the streets, at nightfall, people burn incenses, light candles, offer sacrifices, burn joss papers, among other rituals. With the evolution of this feast, new practices and local superstitions were also established, such as avoiding going out after dark, touching offerings, walking along walls, carrying bells, getting married, moving house or breaking ground, among other behaviors that are a consequence of this feast.


    Heritage Value:

    The Yu Lan (Hungry Ghost Feast) is one of the oldest traditional festivals of Macao, being intimately linked to family values, namely in regard for the respect among different generations, which is a theme that is very important in traditional Chinese culture. The main message of this tradition is related with the idea of expressing “love and filial piety towards parents”, which is a central family ethical topic. The cosmological implications of people’s actions in the realm of the spiritual universe can be reflected by the practices and rituals in this feast, also making this event an important contributor for a better understanding about local folk culture.

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