Aghast, Aughost!  


Jullie Y. Daza

“What is it about August?” asked US President George Bush when he launched Operation Desert Shield, one of a series of “shock and awe” maneuvers in the Middle East (this was before the demise of Saddam Hussein and Khadafi).

In our family, the only August-born has always had to arm herself with humor or self-effacing poise against being labeled “cranky” and “querulous, always finding something to complain about.”

Tuesday, a magnitude-6.6 earthquake struck Masbate and several other provinces. Yesterday,  the first day of GCQ in Metro Manila, was also the start of Ghost Month 2020. Whether you believe in such an old wives’ tale as a month reserved for ghosts, the custom merely asks earthlings to keep a low profile while naughty spirits roam the world in search of deeds to do and maliciously undo. This is the one month in the year, so the tradition goes, that they are allowed to do their worst during their vacation away from the underworld.

The rule is plain: Don’t attract the attention of the “hungry ghosts,” as they are called. No  merrymaking, no loud noises, no loud colors. Don’t get married in any grand ceremony with its attendant trimmings, music and dancing, dowry, gifts, guests, extravagant food and wine. Don’t sign any contract unless you want to tempt the fates. Don’t buy a new car, change your address, repair your house, or launch a product or project.

In the old days when people were a lot more superstitious, they fed the hungry ghosts on the 15th day with one big meal served outside – repeat, outside – the gate of the house. The food usually consisted of pork fat, bean sprouts, and tofu laid out with incense and candles, with wine splashed on the street and coins thrown for good measure.

What happened to those who ignored the fun-seeking spirits instead of placating them? There’s no written or oral history to that effect, but thanks to a custom that will not die – shades of Halloween! – we affirm life as alive and interesting, full of mysteries great and small – time, space, spirits. Hey, there’s Oct. 1 to look forward to, the Mid-Autumn Festival with its full moon, brightly lighted lanterns, and moon cakes to be nibbled, perhaps virtually, online.