interesting. Who ends up eating the food? In Peru we have something
very similar. They put tons of food on top of the graves of their
family members and leave it for several hours. But when midnight comes,
the family eats the food! I wonder about the logic... what is it like
Something similar happens here. The food and drink offerings are made first before the paper money is burned. In order to offer the ghosts (at ghost month), ancestors (during ancestor worship), and idols (at temples and Chinese New Year), incense sticks are stuck into the foods or food packaging.
After a set amount of time--it varies from family to family and holiday to holiday and probably other factors too--the offering table is taken down and the food brought inside.
The family will then eat the food. Many college students have told me waiting for the tables to come down at Chinese New Year (after midnight) so that could eat the goodies was one of their favorite parts of the yearly holiday.
I have been told that the "spirit of the food" is eaten, they are after all feeding spirits. Some have told me that because the spirit of the food has been eaten the food tastes bland and stale. Others have told me that because the spirit of the food has been eaten the food tastes better, as if it has been blessed. And, then others admit to the food not being that much different at all.
The offering tables are set up differently from area to area and family to family, just like every American family decorates their Christmas tree differently. But there are also differences in setting up an offering table to idols, ancestors, or ghosts.
At Ghost Month, often a basin of water and a hand towel can be found on or near the offering table so that their "honorable guests" can wash their hands before partaking of the meal being given to them. These two flickr photos (here and here) show ghost month tables with the typical basins with hand towel out front.Not to be confusing, but I don't have any Ghost Month photos easily accessible. What I do have is photos I took last November outside of my school. I noticed everyone was setting up tables with drinks as the main offering. (I have no idea who or what was being worshiped.) And, at many tables instead of the traditional little red wine cups, there were bottles of coke and tea boxes.