The Double Ninth Festival, also referred to as the Chongyang Festival, is held on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. In accordance with the mysterious book Yi Jing, six is regarded as a feminine number in the Yin character, and nine is treated as a masculine number in the Yang character. “Chong” in Chinese characters means double. It is believed that the double ninth day in the lunar calendar is a fortunate day to be celebrated. Endowed with new significance, this festival has been designated as the Senior’s Festival since 1989, to express respect for elders.
The Double Ninth Festival is thought to have originated from a worship ceremony of the bright star “Antares”, which was also known as “Dahuo” in ancient times. People found an astronomical rule in the spring and autumn period, as Antares usually appeared in the sky at the beginning of spring, and after that, it would be brighter and hung in the southern direction on the day of Summer Solstice. As a sign of seasonal change, Antares moved forward towards the west after July until it was below the horizon in September. With Antares being considered as a god, ancient people were frightened by the star’s disappearance from the sky which made them lose its time reference for farming. Therefore, people held a ceremony to keep safe. In a word, the festival is a result of China’s agricultural civilization.
The festival has long history of two thousand years. It can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn Period and was not taken seriously until the Warring States Period, when it was only celebrated among royal families. Legend has it that a concubine of an emperor Gaozu of the Han Dynasty (202-220 B.C.) was framed by the Queen, and her maid was expelled from the palace. After marrying a civilian, the maid told others that everyone in the palace wore the Zhuyu plant (a kind of herb) and drank chrysanthemum wine to pray for longevity on the Double Ninth Day. Therefore, the activities gradually became a part of folklore.
It is said that during the Eastern Han Dynasty, a devil of plague inhabited Ru River. If it once appeared, people in the village would get disease every day and even die. People living around Ru River suffered a lot of tortures by the devil.
A young man named Hengjing, whose parents had died from plague, also got ill. After recovery, he decided to visit an immortal to learn magic and get rid of the devil. Traveling over a lot of mountains, he heard of an immortal living on a precipitous mountain and finally arrived. Touched by his unshakable belief, the immortal taught Hengjing swordsmanship to expel the devil. After hard practice day and night with considerable effort, he eventually had extraordinary skills in swordsmanship. One day, the immortal told him, the devil would come to his village on the double ninth day. It was time to help the villagers to get rid of the devil. Hengjing was given a package of the Zhuyu plant, a pot of chrysanthemum wine and an understanding of the mystery of exorcizing the spirit. When he went back, he asked the villagers to climb a high mountain near the village, wear some Zhuyu plant and drink chrysanthemum wine. The devil came out from Ru River, but it felt faint smelling the scent of Zhuyu and chrysanthemum. At that time, Hengjing killed it with his sword. Since then, these activities to avoid the devil have been wildly circulated.
With the development of the Chinese calendar, people had a new understanding about time, and the worship ceremony for Antares has declined. But people are also aware of changes in the climate, and so the old customs of the day have been passed down. This festival is a transition from summer to autumn, so all of the customs are about people’s feelings in this season.
There are lots of activities in the festival, including sightseeing, climbing mountains, wearing Zhuyu, eating Chongyang cake, admiring chrysanthemums and drinking chrysanthemum wine. Although it is hard to know the original sacrificial ceremony as time has passed by, traces of it can be found in today’s customs.
People believed that climbing to high places on the Double Ninth Festival can prevent disease as in its legend, so that it is also known as the Height Ascending Festival. Today, it is a golden time to enjoy natural beauty with friends and relatives.
In Chinese characters, the pronunciation of cake is “gao”, which is similar to the word for ‘high’. That is a little word-play trick. Chongyang cake is a nine-layer cake shaped like a tower with a great wish that everything will be promoted.
People not only love the beauty of the flower, but also appreciate its strong vitality in late autumn. It is said that the idea of enjoying chrysanthemums and drinking its wine was created by a brilliant poet named Tao Yuanming in the Jin Dynasty (265-420 A.D.). He is renowned for his poetry, loving wine and chrysanthemum. Following in his footsteps, people take it as an important activity on the festival.
Wearing the Zhuyu plant is very prevalent in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). It was considered that the Zhuyu plant could protect them from diseases and disasters. People usually wear it around their arm, or make a sachet which is tied to their waistband.
Since China designated the Double Ninth Festival as the Senior’s Day, people usually spend time accompanying elderly relatives on the day for respect. It is a great opportunity to climb to high places or have an excursion for whole families.
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