The Spooky Side of Singaporean Interior Design: The Hungry Ghost Festival Renovation Myth

1.    It’s in our culture.


Image Source: The Straits Times

Every culture has its fair share of superstitions, and Singapore, the bustling, multicultural city-state, is no exception. The Lion City is home to a plethora of cultures, each with its unique customs and traditions, and when these merge, they form a rich tapestry of beliefs. One such fascinating belief revolves around the Hungry Ghost Festival and the dreaded activity of home renovation.

2.    What hungry ghosts have to do with your home reno?

The Hungry Ghost Festival, celebrated during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, is a time when spirits (or ghosts), are believed to roam the Earth for a period of one month. Depending on who you ask, it's a time for paying respects to ancestors, offering food to appease/feed/reward the wandering spirits, or avoiding activities such as swimming, whistling at night, jingling your bells or... renovating your house.


A Chinese lunar calendar that actually indicates that building/renovation of a home (盖屋) is to be avoided

Yes, you read that right. Renovation. The very activity that turns your house from a 'meh' to a 'marvellous' is considered a no-go during this period (together with swimming). The rationale? Disturbing the spirits with your noisy power drills, hammering, and general upheaval. It's almost like the spirits are grumpy neighbours, complaining about the noise pollution. "Keep it down, I'm trying to haunt here!" The rationale is, this is the one time in a year that the spirits have a month-long holiday upstairs, and your noisy renovation work is going to affect their “spirits”.

3.    But let's unpack this myth, shall we? 

Firstly, the concept of ghosts being disturbed by renovation noise is a bit perplexing. Aren't ghosts, by definition, incorporeal beings who pass through walls? If that's the case, why would they be bothered by a little drilling into drywall? Secondly, since it’s a month-long holiday and they have full access to everywhere, I think they would rather be at Sentosa chilling or heading to the clubs at Duxton Hill. Why would they hang out at your HDB flat? Supervising your reno works? One would think that being dead would give you a bit of a pass on dealing with the annoyances of the living world. 

But if we take a step back and look at the broader picture, it becomes apparent that like many cultural traditions, this too is rooted in respect and consideration. The Hungry Ghost Festival is a time for honouring the deceased, and perhaps the taboo on renovations is simply an extension of that respect. Send the spirits some good vibes, and they might just pull some strings in the afterlife to get you that dream kitchen you've always wanted. 

4.    Time is of the essence.

However, in a fast-paced city like Singapore, where time is money and the property market waits for no ghost (holy or not), are these age-old superstitions still relevant?

In truth, while some Singaporeans still adhere to these traditions, many others don't give a second thought to renovating their homes during the Hungry Ghost Festival. You could argue that cultural traditions should be respected, but you could also argue that if the spirits are truly our ancestors, wouldn't they want us to move with the times (after all if you’ve seen some of the “kim zua” (effigies) we burn to send them, they are quite updated with the latest rides and gadgets)?

From French fries to iPad to the latest in iPhone, the many paper effigies we burn for the ancestors. Image source from: The Smart Local)

Moreover, the idea that the ghosts are somehow particularly perturbed by renovation noises, but not by the constant din of traffic, construction, and the general hustle and bustle of city life, seems a tad selective. 

5.    You dare or not?

While the belief in the Hungry Ghost Festival and its associated superstitions are a fascinating part of Singaporean culture, the idea that renovation during this time will bring misfortune is one that perhaps belongs more to the realm of folklore than fact. But many folks still believe that it is better to be on the “safe side” and do not wish to trouble “trouble”. For many renovation firms, there is a saying that if the renovation starts before the start of the hungry ghost festival, then all is fine, because you have essentially “choped” to do reno work first. 

Whatever your decision and beliefs are, it is important to be sensitive about the culture, respect and of course your timeline in the whole reno affair. You may not care about this custom, but perhaps your ID or renovator is a super believer. Hence, some concession may be necessary.

At the end of the day, it’s really a matter of, “you dare or not?” My logic is simple, isn't a well-renovated, comfy home the best way to welcome your ancestors if they decide to drop by? 

Visit 小红书  for our Chinese version of Hungry Ghost Festival Renovation Myth – “谈鬼色变”

Posted on 25th August 2023

Written by Astley Ng – the designerd.

SIXIDES Editorial Team


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