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Double Ninth Festival

17 Oct 2018
In China, the Double Ninth Festival enjoys a history stretching back more than two thousand years. According to Chinese classics Book of Changes, nine is a yang number; the ninth day of the ninth lunar month has too much yang (a traditional Chinese spiritual concept). Hence, the day is also called “Double Yang Festival” (Chongyang Festival). Nine is also synonymous with Chinese character “forever” which is represented in the festival’s celebration of the concept of longevity and the golden season for harvest. 

Thus, people throughout China have a special regard for Double Ninth Festival. Since ancient times, the festival is traditionally observed by the following activities: Climbing In the days of ancient China, people often respected the custom of ascending to high places on this day, a practice which can date back to East Han Dynasty, when the festival was also known as Height Ascending Festival. Scholars in Tang Dynasty wrote many poems about this custom, including Climbing, a famous piece of writing by Du Fu. There are no specific rules about where to climb but mountains and pagodas are often as appropriate spots.

Eating Chongyang Cakes According to historical records, Chongyang cake was also called the Flower Cake, the Chrysanthemum Cake and the Five-Color Cake, which can be made utilizing diverse methods. At the dawn of Double Ninth Day, parents would put the cake on the forehead of any children whom they wanted to receive blessings and good wishes. Exquisite Chongyang Cake are often stacked in nine layers in the shape of a tower. On its top there should traditionally be two sheep made from flour, due to an interesting quirk of language that accounts for the fact that the phrase “two sheep” has same pronunciation as “Chongyang”. 

Enjoying the natural beauty of the Chrysanthemum and drinking Chrysanthemum Wine The Double Ninth Festival is a golden time of the year when the chrysanthemum flower is in full blossom. It said that the first person who purportedly enjoyed chrysanthemum viewing and drank chrysanthemum wine during this festival was the poet Tao Yuanming of the Jin Dynasty. Tao Yuanming lived in seclusion and gained the reputation of loving poetry, wine and chrysanthemums. People also call September in lunar calendar “chrysanthemum month” and thus enjoying the flower’s natural beauty has become an important activity on this special day. Wearing the Zhuyu Plant and Chrysanthemum During the Tang Dynasty, wearing the Zhuyu plant on the Double Ninth Festival became another popular tradition, since ancient people believed that it helped them avoid disasters. It’s acceptable to wear Zhuyu plants on your arms, put them in your sachet or even weave one into your hair to help ward off evil. 

Many places in China still maintain the following traditions in celebration of Double Ninth Festival: The Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai city holds a Chrysanthemum Fair and rates the flower in terms of the key characteristics of exquisiteness, nobility and rarity. There’s also a custom in Beijing to put chrysanthemum branches and leaves across doors and windows for driving away evil and bringing auspiciousness. Wuyuan County of Jiangxi province holds its annual Shaiqiu Activity (drying food in the sunlight). The Huangling ancient village in Wuyuan still retains a solid tradition of Shaiqiu because its abundant fresh vegetables and fruits need to be dried and stored in autumn. 

This provides a spectacular scene every year during this time. In Xianghe County of Hebei province, families who are close with one another give each other gifts, as part of the “Zhuijie” (literally meaning “chasing”) tradition of the Double Ninth Festival. In ancient times, Yongping Prefecture would predict the near future’s weather according to weather of Double Ninth Day. If it is rainy during the festival, then they assumed that specific future dates would experience rain too. There is no mountain close by in Dianzhou County, thus folks would often climb a nearby gate tower during the festival. In northern Changyi of Shangdong province, people eat spicy radish soup because, as the saying goes: “drinking radish soup would protect the whole family from suffering”. 

Double Ninth Festival was regarded as the birthday of the God of Wealth in Juancheng and pancakes would be sacrificed to him; while people in Zouping pay respects to the scholar Fan Zhongyan. In the past, dye houses and distilleries also offered sacrifices to the God of Crock. In Xixiang County of Shaanxi province, relatives and friends presented chrysanthemums and chrysanthemum cake to each other, while scholars gathered together to appreciate poetry and wine. In Nanjing of Jiangsu province, people made flags with five-colored bevel paper which they planted in their gardens, while those in Changzhou County ate wheat or flour-based foods, such as steamed buns, in the shape of “camel hoofs”. Folks in Wuxi County ate Chongyang cake and soup with nine ingredients. In Shaoxing Prefecture of Zhejiang province, people usually paid visits to relatives and friends, unless there was a funeral occurring. Hogs and sheep would be sacrificed to the ancestors in Tonglu County, which was known as the custom of “Autumn Sacrifice”. Meanwhile, they would also make rice dumplings to exchange with each other. Tongling County of Anhui province held a special Lion Dance Fair to welcome the Mountain God and bamboo horses were crafted for theatrical displays as part of an auspicious ritual to get rid of plague. Changwu County of Hubei province maintains the tradition of brewing wine on the Double Ninth Day. It is said that wine brewed in Hubei during the festival has the most mellow taste and can be stored for a long time. 

In Yingcheng County, the festival is seen as a good time to redeem a vow made to Buddhist gods, making it a time when families often gather together to perform rituals. People in Changting County and Haicheng County of Fujiang province respectively pick green soybeans and enjoy kite-flying activities. In Lianchuan of Guangdong province, boys and girls come together out of town to sing songs. Yangjiang celebrates the festival by flying kites attached with a vine bow which gives out a resonant sound across the sky. Residents in Lingao County would get up early to perform the ceremony of “shooing leopard cat” as an auspice for peace and prosperity. Scholars in Nanxi County of Sichuan province would meet annually in Censhan House of Longteng Mountain in memory of poet Cen Shen during this festival. Folks would also make fermented glutinous rice by steaming sticky rice with wine around the time of Double Ninth Festival. The south of Shanxi province embraces a long history of climbing which is an excellent chance to enjoy the splendid mountains and rivers and visit scenic spots and historical sites. Many well-known sayings are passed down to appreciate this grand occasion.