Friday, October 24, 2008

Happy Hungry Ghost Festival...and Halloween

We celebrate lots of holidays in our Chinese/American household. It's always enlightening to learn about and try to explain why you are celebrating a certain day. "Because we just do," doesn't quite hold it for long.

What I find interesting is that although the dates are never the same, most of--and I know I'm leaving some major ones out on both sides--but most holidays serve a similar purpose no matter what country.

Thanksgiving, for example, is similar to the Chinese Mooncake Festival, a time for the family to gather and give thanks for the great harvest.

Christmas is like Chinese New Year, when families gather and children are given red packets of money.

Valentine's Day is Like "7th Day 7th Month Star Festival" in which couples recall the loyalty and love of the two stars--the weaver and cowherd--separated by the Milky Way and only able to meet one night a year.

And Halloween is similar to the Hungry Ghost Festival.

Well, first let's talk Halloween. To the Celts, October 31st marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and ghosts returned to earth. To commemorate the event, they built huge sacred bonfires, sacrificed animals, and wore costumes.

Over the years, the Romans got involved, as did the Christians, changing the holiday around a bit. So when I was a kid, we didn't have bonfires (although in Chicago that would have been nice). But Halloween was still only celebrated for one day a year. Since returning to the US, I've noticed that Halloween gets longer and longer each year with parades and parties and celebrations. In our neighborhood, the fun starts tomorrow. And my daughter, who goes to University at Halloween Central, already has four outfits ready for the festivities.

Like the ever-evolving Halloween, the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival lasts a month (7th Lunar Month), and the Chinese believe that during this time the gates of hell open. Ghosts roam the streets of the living. Unlike Halloween, children are to stay off the streets, lest they be snatched up by hungry ghosts. And while candy isn't part of the picture, everyone enjoys the treat of traditional Chinese opera performances all day long, all month long (At least in Singapore.) At midnight on the 30th, the ghosts return to hell and the gates are shut behind them. People prepare glorious meals for their ancestors, and burn joss sticks as well as paper money and accessories in a huge send-0ff bonfire.

So, Happy belated Hungry Ghost Festival....and Happy Halloween. Enjoy a safe time, and chase all those nasty spirits away for the year.

**Not only does Halloween get going this weekend, but it is also the time of the amazing Book Club Expo. (http://www.bookclubexpo.com/) The cost is a reasonable $65 for two days of listening to a great line-up of authors: i.e. Brian Copeland (Not a Genuine Black Man, Silicon Valley Reads 2009), Masha Hamilton (The Camel Bookmobile), Nicole Mones (The Last Chinese Chef), Gail Tsukiyama (The Samurai's Garden), to name a few. I'll be there Sunday at 3pm as part of an excellent panel: All Abroad--Living and Writing Elsewhere. So, in between parades and boo bashes, come to the Expo.

6 comments:

beckylevine said...

I was driving through town the other night, and apparently it was the dogs' dress-up night! Pretty cute. :)

Lynn said...

Yikes, so we have to stay off the streets for a whole month? And no candy??!!

I can't wait to hear more about the book group expo.

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

No candy. Can you imagine? That was one holiday we (or I) tried to export to Singapore. For a few years we had several apartment blocks participating. It was great fun--although halfway through, the kids would inevitably tear off their costumes. So hot, la.
The book group expo was an amazing time. I'm still basking in all the fun. (And my nightstand is now piled high with a new stack of books.)

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

I just heard from the moderator of my Book Group Expo salon, David Corbett, that they don't celebrate Halloween in El Salvador. It's considered the Devil's Day. Interesting, eh?

addhumorandfaith said...

Since you live in the Bay area and have Chinese connections, I wonder if you know Lisa See? The book I read this month for my book club was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Very interesting. I'm looking forward to the discussion about it.

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

Yes, I've met Lisa See. She's a kind and humorous person. I think she lives in southern CA.

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

"McBurney-Lin tells a wonderfully entertaining story with the traditional coming-of-age theme (which is experienced universally)...weaving in the cultural challenges of growing up in China's rapidly changing social system."
Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010


"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

"A lot is expected of a young Chinese girl. My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin is the story of Li Hui, a young girl who has just achieved marriageable age. She seeks to make the most of herself, but the expectations all around her make it difficult, as her parents seek to use her as pawn to their advantage, she is faced with what she believes to be true love. She must balance career, romance, and family, all to somehow make everyone happy, a tough endeavor indeed. An engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end, "My Half of the Sky" is a poignant tale of the modern Chinese woman, and recommended for community library collections.
--Midwest Book Review November, 2008

“It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.”
Isabella Sluzek
Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008
Singapore

You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel.
Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
Author - The Sixteenth Man


A complex and mesmerizingly original tale of a young Chinese woman caught between the modern world and the pull of her ancient culture. McBurney-Lin’s intimate portrait of China sparks with insights and is peopled with characters so rich and alive, they seem to breathe on the page. Dazzling and unforgettable.
Caroline Leavitt,
Author - Girls in Trouble

McBurney-Lin's debut novel is a gift. Li Hui is a memorable heroine, a young woman torn between her heart and her culture.Her daunting journey is a trip into China's complicated soul, and a deeply moving exploration of love, honor, duty, and loss." Frank Baldwin, Author - Balling the Jack


My Half of the Sky is a wonderfully-crafted story that was obviously written with a piece of McBurney-Lin's heart. A masterpiece."
Lee Lofland, Author - Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation


My Half of the Sky heralds the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller. With artistry and precision, Jana McBurney-Lin's clear-eyed prose takes the reader on a new journey into a past world that speaks to a modern sensibility, a modern world, a modern woman. This is a book to be treasured.
Emily Rapp, Author - The Poster Child


Through vivid descriptions of sights and smells, Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a haunting, emotional journey of what it means to be an honorable female in modern China. Jill Ferguson, Author - Sometimes Art Can't Save You