Celebrating Chongyang Festival

Ascending to great heights on Double Ninth Day
By Duoyu Zhong
Duoyu Zhong
Duoyu Zhong
October 9, 2013Updated: October 9, 2013

Chongyang Festival (重陽節) is a traditional Chinese festival that falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar; hence, it is also called the Double Ninth Festival. This year it falls on Sunday, Oct. 13, of the Gregorian calendar.

“Chongyang” literarily means “double yang,” or “double ninth.” The name originates from the traditional Chinese theory of yin (陰) and yang (陽), the two opposite and complementary forces of the universe.

According to the yin-yang theory, the number nine belongs to yang, which characterizes the positive and masculine nature of things. The ninth day of the ninth lunar month is the day on which these two yang numbers meet, and it has been an important and auspicious occasion for celebration since ancient times.

Origin of the Festival

Like other traditional festivals in China, the Chongyang Festival originated from legends. One of the most popular stories is about a man named Huan Jing who lived in the Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25–220).

Huan Jing was a disciple learning the magic arts from his teacher, Fei Changfang, who had become an immortal after many years of practicing Daoism.

One day, just before the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, the two were climbing a mountain when Fei suddenly stopped and looked very troubled.

Fei told Huan Jing: “On the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, a disaster will come to your hometown. You must return home immediately.

“Make a red bag for each of your family members and fill it with zhuyu [dogwood] leaves. You must all tie your bags to your arms, leave home quickly, and climb to the top of a mountain.

“Most importantly, you must all drink some chrysanthemum wine. Only by doing so can you avoid the disaster.”

Upon hearing this, Huan Jing rushed home and asked his family to do exactly as his teacher had said. The whole family climbed up a nearby mountain and did not return until the evening.

When they arrived back home, they found all their livestock dead, including their cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, and dog. Huan Jing and his family members did not perish only because they had followed Fei Changfang’s warning and instructions.

Since then, climbing a mountain, carrying zhuyu leaves or sprigs, and drinking chrysanthemum wine have become traditional activities of the Chongyang Festival to dispel evil spirits and misfortunes.

Autumn Outings, Climbing High

During the Chongyang Festival, many Chinese people will go hiking or climb up a mountain or tower, following the ancient custom of ascending to a high elevation to avoid harm, a tradition that was passed down from nearly 2,000 years ago.

Therefore, the festival is also called “Height Ascending Festival” in some areas.

On this day, going on a hike on a mountain is a very pleasant outdoor activity, letting everyone enjoy the golden season of autumn and the final burst of colour before winter arrives.

Enjoying the Chrysanthemum

Enjoying the flourishing chrysanthemum has also become an important pastime during the Chongyang Festival, which occurs in the season of bloom for these elegant flowers. The custom of enjoying the chrysanthemum became popular during the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960–1279).

A number of different varieties of chrysanthemum grow in China. The Chinese people have adored and cherished these lovely flowers since ancient times, and many poets and artists have featured the chrysanthemum in their verses and paintings.

In addition to its beauty, the chrysanthemum is a wonderful, simple, and effective natural remedy that is highly prized by herbalists of traditional Chinese medicine for its flexibility of use.

The flower can be used as a standalone remedy or can be mixed with other herbs. Its flavour is both bitter and sweet, and chrysanthemum tea is a lovely and refreshing drink with a bit of local raw honey.

In addition to its traditional use for detoxification, the chrysanthemum helps to prevent and treat the common cold in late autumn.

Zhuyu Sprigs

Carrying zhuyu (dogwood, or cornel) during the Chongyang Festival became popular in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618–907).

According to theories of Chinese medicine, zhuyu can help people avoid disasters and illness in late autumn. In ancient times, it was a tradition for people to carry sprigs of the zhuyu plant as a way of preventing disease and protecting their health and prosperity.

Zhuyu is a plant with a strong fragrance and both its leaves and flowers are often used today as a Chinese medicinal herb.

Chongyang Cakes

The special food of Chongyang Festival is a popular delicacy called Chongyang cake, chrysanthemum cake, or flower cake.

These rice-cakes are called “gao” in Chinese, which is a homophone for “height” and serves to link the traditional cakes to the custom of climbing mountains and the symbolism of ascending to great heights.

Chongyang cakes are typically a nine-layer cake shaped like a tower and are made of rice along with nuts and preserves such as dates, preserved apple, peaches, and apricots.

Chrysanthemum Wine

Drinking chrysanthemum wine is another important tradition of the Chongyang Festival. The custom of making and drinking this wine can be traced back many centuries.

Chrysanthemum wine is believed to have many physical as well as spiritual benefits. On the day of the Chongyang Festival in ancient times, people used to pick newly blossomed chrysanthemums  and some of their green leaves, mix them with grains for brewing, and then save the wine until the next Chongyang Festival.

Seniors’ Day

In Chinese, the character for nine, 九 (jiǔ), has the same pronunciation as the character for longevity, 久 (jiǔ); therefore, “double ninth” also represents a good wish to senior citizens for a long life.

The Double Ninth Festival has become a special day both for people to pay their respects to the elderly and for the elderly to enjoy themselves in the festive celebrations.

Many companies will organize group activities for retirees on this day, such as hikes in the mountains or other outings, and younger generations will honour their elderly family members by taking them on trips to the countryside or sending them gifts.