Double Ninth Festival (also called Chongyang Festival) is held on the 9th day of the 9th month in the lunar calendar. In 2021, that day falls on October 14th. Its name Chongyang comes from the fact that the number nine is regarded as yang (masculine, as opposed to the number six, which is yin, or feminine), and chong (重) signifies double. On this festival, people eat Chongyang cake, drink chrysanthemum wine, climb heights (mountains or towers), and celebrate the blooming of the chrysanthemums.
The legend of Chongyang Festival
Like most other festivals, Chongyang Festival has its own legend. The story goes that during the dynasty of Eastern Han (25-220 A.D.), Runan county near the Ru River was haunted by a devil that brought a plague to the inhabitants. A young man who lost his parents to the disease – Huan Jing – traveled far and wide to find an immortal who would teach him how to defeat the devil and avenge the plague’s victims.
On the 8th day of the 9th lunar month, Huan Jing’s immortal teacher revealed to him that the devil would appear the next day, so he was to return to his home, with a bag of dogwood (a sort of sour cherry) and some chrysanthemum wine that would help him fight the monster. On the morning of the 9th day of the 9th lunar month, Huan Jing evacuated the villagers up the nearest mountain. They were each armed with dogwood leaves and a cup of chrysanthemum wine. When the devil emerged from the Ru River at noon, the scent of the dogwood and the wine confused it, giving Huan Jing the opportunity of using his sword to slay the devil.
Since climbing the mountain, the dogwood, and the chrysanthemum all helped defeat the devil, those became popular customs on Double Ninth Day.
Activities on Double Ninth Festival
To this day, climbing heights (mountains or towers), admiring newly flowering chrysanthemums and drinking chrysanthemum wine, are activities people enjoy on Chongyang Festival.
Since the climb up the mountain helped defeat the plague devil, people believed (and some do to this day) that this activity could help prevent diseases from spreading. As early as during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), poets would describe the scenery and their feeling during mountain climbing on that day. Nowadays, many families or groups of friends climb mountains together to enjoy nature and share their joy of the holiday together. And – if it really helps prevent disease? Why not give it a try to protect yourself from COVID this year?
Double Ninth Festival falls in the season of chrysanthemum blooms, so this day is the perfect opportunity to admire these blossoms in parks. Many cities organize chrysanthemum exhibitions in parks that attract interested visitors.
The popularity of wearing pieces of dogwood has waned over the centuries, but many women still enjoy wearing chrysanthemum blossoms. Who can blame them? They’re pretty, and they smell much better!
Popular foods for Chongyang Festival
The most popular food on Chongyang Festival is Chongyang cake. It is a steamed cake with layers (up to 9 for the ambitious bakers) with nuts and dried fruit as filling. The pronunciation of 糕 (cake) and 高 (high) are the same: gāo. Therefore, you can substitute eating cake for ascending heights. Good deal, if you ask me! Another advantage is that one is believed to make personal progress after eating such cake – and makes one move to a higher level.
Drinking chrysanthemum wine is another integral part of Double Ninth Festival. Chrysanthemums are believed to contain antitoxins and driving away evil spirits. Therefore, drinking chrysanthemum wine is believed to cure or prevent all sorts of diseases and disasters.
Since 1989, the Chinese government has given Double Ninth Festival another, additional function. Since the number nine (九) and long (久) are both pronounced the same (jiǔ), many people associated the number nine with longevity. Therefore, Double Ninth Festival has been designated Seniors’ Day – a day to show respect to the elderly and bring them enjoyment. Many companies, organizations and associations organize fall trips to scenic spots that day for retirees. Many family members also accompany their elders and give them gifts to wish them well.