A Late Start to Ghost Month in 2023
The Ghost Month, celebrated in parts of East Asia, typically commences at the beginning of August or the end of July.
However, the start of the Ghost Month in 2023 has perplexed many, as it commences on 16 August, almost a month later than expected. The question then arises, why?
The Gregorian Calendar
The Ghost Month follows the Lunar Calendar, which usually starts one month later than the Gregorian Calendar. For example, in 2023, the New Year commenced 1 January, while the Lunar New Year started on 22 January.
Given this, one would anticipate the lunar seventh month to begin around 22nd July, but that is not the case this year.
Understanding Leap Years
To grasp the reason behind this delay, one must comprehend the concept of leap years in the Gregorian calendar, also known as the solar calendar, the calendar that we all follow.
Every four years, an extra day is added in February. This isn’t an arbitrary decision but rather a necessary adjustment.
The Earth takes approximately 365.25 days to orbit the sun. By following a 365-day year indefinitely, the calendar would slowly drift and become inaccurate over centuries. The addition of a day every four years essentially “resets” the calendar to match the Earth’s orbit around the sun.
Lunar vs Solar Calendars
While the Gregorian calendar is solar and follows the sun, there are also lunar calendars that follow the moon.
A lunar month, based on the moon’s orbit around the Earth, is usually about 29.53 days.
This leads to the Lunar calendar being roughly 354 days long, around 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar.
Here’s the thing: If left unchecked, this 11-day difference would result in the Lunar and Gregorian calendars diverging significantly over time, leading to festivals falling in entirely different months.
The Lunisolar Solution That Leads to a Late Ghost Month in 2023
The Lunar Calendar utilized in this context is actually a lunisolar calendar, a “hybrid” aiming to synchronize the Lunar and Gregorian calendars. With the Lunar calendar being short of 11 days annually, an extra month is added roughly every three years to align the two.
In 2023, this resulted in two second months in the lunisolar calendar, syncing the two calendars.
This is why the Ghost Month started so late this year: it’s because we have “two Februaries”.
A similar adjustment occurred in 2020 with two fourth months, which influenced the start dates of subsequent festivals, such as Chinese New Year.