This article is part of our Hungry Ghost Festival Family Guide. Sign up for our newsletter to receive our best activity, recipe and craft ideas before every Chinese holiday.
Families usually burn joss paper to send departed ancestors everything they might need in the afterlife. Offerings can range from simple paper bank notes to elaborate paper crafts shaped like clothing, cars and electronics. During the Hungry Ghost Festival, however, burning joss paper is more an act of appeasement intended to calm the wandering spirits and keep them from creating mischief.
Joss paper ingots are very much in keeping with the simple offerings that are typically made during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Burning the ingots, whose color and shape resemble ancient Chinese currency, is meant to please the hungry ghosts, alongside the other offerings of food, drink and entertainment that take place during Ghost Month.
Folding a joss paper ingot is really easy — it’s a bit like origami, actually. As you’re preparing for the night of the Hungry Ghost Festival, it’s the type of activity you can do as a family while chatting around the table. (As an aside, you can also repeat this activity as you’re planning for the Qingming Festival in the spring.)
Do it yourself…
Traditional Joss Paper Squares
You can make the gold ingots in this tutorial with these traditional joss paper squares, each of which is decorated with gold or silver foil to represent money.
To get started, you need a stack of joss paper, which you can typically find in Chinatown at a spiritual supplies store. Joss paper is traditionally made from coarse bamboo paper that’s cut into individual squares and decorated with stamps or thin pieces of foil. If you don’t have access to joss paper, you can use a light construction paper that’s cut into 5 1/2 inch squares.
Once you get a hang of the directions below, it should only take about a minute to make each ingot. You’ll want to make a good pile of them, to ensure you’re being sufficiently generous to the passing ghosts. On the evening of the Hungry Ghost Festival, take your joss paper ingots outside along with any other offerings you’re making, arrange them in a neat pile by the street curb and burn them into the night. The ghosts use the money to pursue pleasure in the spirit world.
This project takes about half an hour and creates 25 joss paper ingots. All you need is 50 sheets of 5 1/2 inch joss paper.
Collect your paper. You’ll need two sheets for each ingot.
With the foil side facing inward, fold the first sheet of paper in half.
Bring the bottom folded edge upward and crease in place when it’s 1/4 inch from the top.
This is what the first sheet looks like once you’ve made your second fold.
Now, take your second sheet of paper and, with the foil side facing outward this time, fold in half.
This is what the second sheet looks like once you’ve made your first fold.
Next, slide the folded edge of your first sheet of paper into the open end of your second sheet of paper, until the first sheet catches on its crease.
Rest the outer sheet on the crease of the inner sheet, and then release the bottom edge of the inner sheet.
Flip this package over and place it on the table, so that the released flap extends downward.
Next, fold the right corner of the package downward at a 45 degree angle and crease in place. (If you like, you can fold the corners at slightly less than 45 degrees to create a shape that’s a bit more rectangular.)
Repeat this step with the left corner of the package.
Fold the package forward along the creased edge of the inner sheet’s flap.
You’ll notice two triangles of paper left on either side of the package. Fold these triangles up and over the sides…
…then tuck them inside.
OK! Now you’re done folding. Here’s what the ingot package looks like on one side…
…and then on the other.
To puff out the ingot, pull the bottom edges of the package apart, while pushing the top and bottom points inward. Once you stand the ingot up, you can also press the top edges of the triangular ingot inwards to give the entire shape a bit more body.
Here’s the finished ingot.
Repeat the steps above to create up to 25 joss paper ingots and then store until the evening of the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Can you share any expert tips from your experience making joss paper ingots? Want to ask a question before you try making them yourself? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!