The Double Ninth Festival（重阳节） falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. According to the Book of Changes, the number six is considered as yin while nine is yang. The ninth day of the ninth lunar month in the Chinese calendar features two nines, so the day is given the Chinese name “chong yang 重阳” (chong means double in Chinese).The day is also known as the Chrysanthemum Festival (菊の節句) 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” (重陽節). To protect against danger, it is customary to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum liquor, and wear the zhuyu (茱萸) plant, Cornus officinalis. (Both chrysanthemum and zhuyu are considered to have cleansing qualities and are used on other occasions to air out houses and cure illnesses.)
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.
The Origin of the Double Ninth Festival
Like many other traditional festivals, the Double Ninth Festival also has its own story.
Legend has it that there was a monster in the Ruhe River that brought illness to people in the Eastern Han Dynasty. Wherever it went, people died from the disease it brought, and people back then were ravaged by this monster.
A plague claimed the lives of a young man’s parents, and he, named Huan Jing, almost lost his life as a result of the epidemic. Having recuperated, he said goodbye to his beloved wife and fellow countrymen and set out to learn magic so that he could rid them of this monster. He visited many places and masters, and was eventually told of an ancient hill in the east, home to a Taoist immortal with supernatural power. Heedless of the dangers and difficulties he embarked on this long journey and, guided by the sacred crane, reached the hill and finally found the Taoist immortal. Touched by his undaunted sprit, the immortal took him as his disciple, taught him the art of swordplay and gave him a sword for exorcising devils. Huan practiced the art of swordplay whole-heartedly and until he achieved perfect mastery.
One day, the immortal asked Huan to come to him, saying, “Tomorrow is the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. The monster will be back to harm the people. You have already mastered the art of swordplay. Now it’s time for you to save the people from the monster’s ravages.” The immortal gave Huan a bag of zhuyu (a kind of plant) leaves and a bottle of chrysanthemum wine, enlightened him on the ways of exorcism, and told him to ride a sacred crane home.
Huan arrived at his hometown on the morning of the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, summoned all the villagers to a nearby hill and gave each of them a zhuyu leaf and a cup of chrysanthemum wine as the immortal had told him. At noon, with loud roars, the monster rose from Ruhe River, but stopped suddenly at the foot of the hill when it smelled the fragrance of the zhuyu leaves and wine. Its face paled as Huan came down from the hill with his sword to exorcise it. After several rounds of fighting, he finally stabbed and killed the monster. Thereafter, the tradition of climbing to a higher place on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month to be rid of plague has been passed down from generation to generation.
On Double Ninth Day Thinking of My Brothers at Home
A lonely stranger in a strange land I’m cast,
Sore sick for my dears on every festive day.
By now my brothers must some heights have passed,
But a cornel wearer missing’ll damp the play.