The 9th day of the 9th lunar month is the traditional Chongyang Festival, or Double Ninth Festival. It usually falls in October in the Gregorian calendar. In an ancient and mysterious book Yi Jing, or The Book of Changes, number “6” was thought to be of Yin character, meaning feminine or negative, while number “9” was thought to be Yang, meaning masculine or positive. So the number nine in both month and day create the Double Ninth Festival, or Chongyang Festival. Chong in Chinese means “double.” Also, as double ninth was pronounced the same as the word to signify “forever”, both are “Jiu Jiu,” the Chinese ancestors considered it an auspicious day worth celebration.
The Double Ninth Festival can be traced back to the Warring States Period. During the Tang Dynasty, the Double Ninth Festival was on official lists of folk festivals. During the Chongyang Festival, people went outside and climbed mountains together, and engaged in many other activities, such as enjoying the chrysanthemums, inserting Zhuyu, eating Chongyang cakes, and drinking chrysanthemum wines.
Like other traditional festivals, Chongyang Festival is associated with ancient legends. During the East Han Dynasty, there was a devil of the plague in the Ruhe River. As long as it showed up, people got sick and even died. People living around the Ruhe River suffered a lot from the disease ravaged by demons.
A man named Huan Jing lost his parents to the and he almost died himself.. After he recovered, Huan Jing decided to learn the magic arts and kill the plague devil. Huan Jing heard that there an immortal lived in the eastern area so he journeyed there and finally found the immortal. The immortal was moved by his effort and dedication and taught Huan Jing how to kill the devil. One day, the immortal told Huan Jing that the devil would show up again on the ninth day of the ninth month, and he asked Huan Jing to go back to kill it. When Huan Jing went back, he asked the whole family to go to a mountain and sent everyone a Zhuyu leaf and a glass of chrysanthemum wine. When the devil of the plague emerged from the water, it got dizzy from the scent of the Zhuyu and the chrysanthemum. While it was disoriented, Huan Jing killed the plague devil with a sword. So the custom of the Double Ninth Festival come from emulating what Huan Jing had the people do.
Customs and Activities Of Double Ninth Festival
Zhuyu (shān zhū yú 山茱萸) or cornel (Chinese cornel dogwood) is a species of evergreen arbor; it is heavy-scented plant whose fruit is edible and stock and leaves can be medicinal materials. They can expel insects, get rid of the humidity, help digestion and cure inner heat. It puts out purple flowers in spring and bears, in autumn, purplish-brown fruit that is sour, puckery and mild in nature.
The custom of wearing cornel twigs was already very popular in the Tang Dynasty (618-907); it was made an official day – off for common people by an imperial edict. The ancient people believed that planting cornel twigs on Double Ninth Festival could prevent diseases and avoid disasters. They also wear them on arms or heads or put them in sachets. Most of people that follow the custom are women and children, and in some places men also wear them. In Song Dynasty, people sent each other colorful silk cut into cornel twigs or chrysanthemum and wore them
Chrysanthemum originated in China and was recorded in some Chinese books as early as the 5th century B.C. The flower was introduced, as imperial flower, into Japan in the Tang Dynasty. Then it was introduced into Britain in the 12th century, into the continent of Europe in the 17th century, and into the USA in the 19th century. Also known as “yellow flower”, chrysanthemum is of varied species in the composite family. Though its florescence lasts long, this perennial herb usually begins to bloom in the 9th lunar month, lending much festive flavor to the Double Ninth Day. That’s why the month is also referred to as “the month of chrysanthemum”. The entrances of some taverns in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) were decorated with the flowers on the day, which was supposed to incite customers’ desire for wine. Chrysanthemum displays were usually held immediately after the day in some regions of China in the Qing Dynasty. People in Beijing began to stick the chrysanthemums on doors and windows to “get rid of the bad luck and bring in the good ones” which is an alteration of the custom of wearing Chrysanthemum on head. At these displays people might enjoy chrysanthemum flowers, take part in poem-composing competitions or watch painters drawing paintings of chrysanthemum flowers. The display was often lively with a sea of visitors.
The flower was favored by poets through the ages, because it is one of the seldom flowers that bloom in late autumn. It is said that Tao Yuanming, a famous poet of the Jin Dynasty, grew many species of chrysanthemum while he lived as hermit and the flower, when in full bloom, drew many of Tao’s relatives and friends. Huang Chao, leader of the peasant uprising in the Tang Dynasty, wrote a lot of poems about chrysanthemum, which were compiled into an anthology of Chrysanthemum and, even now, are oft-quoted. Du Fu, a great Tang Dynasty poet, wrote more than ten poems singing the praises of the flower.
Eating Double Ninth Cake
The Double Ninth cake is also known as “chrysanthemum cake” or “flower cake”. It dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (the 11th century – 256 BC). It is said that the cake was originally prepared after autumn harvests for farmers to have a taste of what was just in season, and it gradually grew into the present cake for people to eat on the Double Ninth Day. The cake was usually made of glutinous rice flour, millet flour or bean flour. The cake in the Qing Dynasty was made like a 9-storied pagoda, which was topped with two sheep images made of dough. The cake, so made, was called Chong Yang Gao in Chinese, which means Double Ninth cake as “Chong” means double, “Yang” dichotomously suggests nine and sheep, and “Gao” means cake. Also, because “Gao” (cake) shares the pronunciation with “Gao” (high, tall), people want to get a higher position in their life through having Gao on the Double Ninth Day.
Chrysanthemum Flower Wine
The chrysanthemum flower wine is unique in brewing. In ancient times people usually picked fresh chrysanthemum flowers and leaves on the 9th of the 9th lunar month, and brewed the mixture of them and grains into the wine, which would not be drunk until the same day next year. The wine is said to have improve vision, alleviation of headache, reduce hypertension, encourage weight loss and aid in stomach trouble, thus contributing to longevity. It is said that the drinkers of the chrysanthemum wine would be free from evil and have strong physique against cold weather. The chrysanthemum wine, infused with cornel fruit, olso helps with pain relief and improves qi.
People like to climb hills and small mountains on this festival, so Double Ninth Festival is also called “Mountain-climbing Festival”. The 9th lunar month, with clear autumn sky and bracing air, is a good time for sightseeing. So people, both ancient and present, loved to go sightseeing this month.
Apart from expelling bad luck and disasters, climbing mounting also indicates “climbing to a higher position”, and also a meaning “climb to a long life”. This is the reason people pay attention to this custom, especially the elderly.
The Double Ninth Festival is also a time for family get-togethers. It is an occasion to remember one’s ancestors, the sacrifices they made and the hardships they underwent. Especially in southern China and Hong Kong it is a day to visit cemetaries and honor ancestors, as well as get together with the living.