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02 Nov


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The traditional Chongyang Festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. This is why it is also known as the Double Ninth Festival. This date, in the Gregorian calendar is represented in October.

This festival is based on the theory of Yin and Yang, the two opposing principles in nature. Yin is feminine, negative principle, while Yang is masculine and positive in its essence. The ancients believed that all natural phenomena could be explained by this theory and so numbers are

also allocated to having either a yin or yang influence.

Even numbers are associated with Yin energy and odd numbers to Yang energy. The ninth day of the ninth lunar month is a day when the two Yang numbers meet. So it is called Chongyang as Chong, in chinese has the meaning of ‘double’. Also, as double ninth was pronounced the same as the word forever (‘Jiu Jiu’), the Chinese consider it a particularly auspicious day worthy of great celebration.

There are various traditional customs associated with this day and it is not very clear as to when and even why some of these customs began. However, one of the highly regarded historical tales that reflects the main traditions followed today in Chinese society comes from a book written in the sixth century.

A man called Huan Jing was being instructed in the magical arts by the immortal Fei Changfang. When the two were climbing a mountain one day Fei Changfang stopped suddenly and told Huan Jing to return home immediately as there was imminent disaster. To avoid this tragedy he suggested that Huan Jing create a red bag with some dogwood spray in each one, for every member of his family. Fei Changfang added that these bags must be tied to the arms of each family member and then together they must quickly climb to the top of a mountain and drink chrysanthemum wine. Only by doing so could they avoid this tragedy.

On hearing this, Huan Jing rushed home and instructed his family to do exactly as his teacher had said. When they returned home that evening all their livestock were dead. Later when Huan Jing informed his teacher of the outcome he was told that the livestock died in place of his family, who escaped disaster by following his instructions.

And so it happened that climbing a mountain, carrying a spray of dogwood and drinking chrysanthemum wine became the traditional activities of the Chongyang Festival.

Early in the Han Dynasty some 2000 years ago people climbed a high platform outside the capital city of Chang'an on the occasion of the Chongyang Festival. The weather at this time of year is usually perfect for outdoor activities and so the custom has evolved into its present form, where people climb tall towers or even hike in the mountains enjoying Mother Nature's final burst of colour before she puts on her dull winter cloak.

The Double Ninth Festival is also a time when the chrysanthemum blooms. And China boasts some of the most diverse species of chrysanthemum flowers on the planet. So enjoying the flourishing chrysanthemum by attending exhibitions of this blossom also becomes a well honoured activity during this festival. Most people will consume chrysanthemum tea although some traditionalists will drink the chrysanthemum wine. Some women will adorn their hair with chrysanthemum flowers or place a vase overflowing with these flowers at windows or hang them over the doorways to ward off danger and negative influences.

The dogwood is a plant with a strong fragrance used as in traditional Chinese herbal medicine. Its history as a medicine goes back many centuries but this one custom of carrying a spray of dogwood during the Double Ninth Festival is slowly dying out.

Another custom on this day is that people will eat Double Ninth Gao (or cake). In Chinese, gao (cake) has the same pronunciation with gao (height). Consequently, an alternative to climbing mountains is to enjoying cakes over a picnic lunch knowing that symbolically it can give you ‘progress in all the projects you’re involved in’. The cakes during the Double Ninth festival are varied, but some cakes will have up to nine layers and baked in the form of a tower. Since nine is the highest odd digit, people put two of them together to signify longevity. Therefore, the ninth day of the ninth month has become a special day for people to pay their respects to the elderly and a day for the elderly to enjoy being doted upon. In fact, the Chinese government have even declared the Double Ninth Festival as Seniors’ Day.