The Double Ninth Festival, observed on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Lunar calendar, is a traditional Chinese holiday, mentioned in writing since before the East Han period (before AD 25). The day is also known as the Chrysanthemum Festival in Japan.
According to the I Ching, nine is a “yang” number; the ninth day of the ninth lunar month (or double nine) has too much “yang”(a traditional Chinese spiritual concept) and is thus a potentially dangerous date. Hence, the day is also called “Double Yang Festival”. To protect against danger, it is customary to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum liquor, and wear the “zhuyu” plant, Cornus officinalis.
On this holiday, some Chinese also visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. In Hong Kong, whole extended families head to ancestral graves to clean them and repaint inscriptions, and to lay out food offerings such as roast suckling pig and fruit, which are then eaten (after the spirits have consumed the spiritual element of the food). Chongyang Cake is also popular. Incense sticks are burned. Cemeteries get crowded, and each year grass fires are inadvertently started by the burning incense sticks.
Once there was a man named Huan Jing, who believed that a monster would bring pestilence. He told his countrymen to hide on a hill while he went to defeat the monster. Later, people celebrated Huan Jing’s defeat of the monster on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month.
In 1966, the Republic of China rededicated the holiday as “Senior Citizens’ Day”, underscoring one custom as it is observed in China, where the festival is also an opportunity to care for and appreciate the elderly.
Double Ninth may have originated as a day to drive away danger, but like the Chinese New Year, over time it became a day of celebration. In contemporary times, it is an occasion for hiking and chrysanthemum appreciation. Stores sell rice cakes with mini colorful flags to represent “zhuyu”. Most people drink chrysanthemum tea, while a few traditionalists drink homemade chrysanthemum wine. Children learn poems about chrysanthemums, and many localities host chrysanthemum exhibits. Mountain climbing races are also popular; winners get to wear a wreath made of “zhuyu”.
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