Chongyang Festival (重陽節) also known as the Double Ninth Festival (重九節) is held on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. In ancient times, people celebrated the festival with activities like climbing mountains (登高), enjoying the blooming chrysanthemum (菊花), wearing zhuyu – dogwood leaves (茱萸), eating Chongyang cakes (重陽糕), drinking chrysanthemum wines (菊花酒), flying kites and visiting the graves of their ancestors. In 2023, Chongyang Festival falls on 23rd October 4 (Monday).
The Double Ninth Festival is a public holiday in Hong Kong. On that day the people visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. They clean the graves and repaint inscriptions. Then they lay out food offerings such as roast pork and fruits. Incense sticks, candles and joss paper are burned. Cemeteries get crowded. Each year grass fires are accidentally or carelessly started by the burning incense sticks and candles.
Recently in Taiwan, the holiday of the Double Ninth Festival has been rededicated as ‘Senior Citizens’ Day’ (敬老節). The festival is an opportunity to care for and appreciate the elderly.
The Legend of the Festival
It is said that in the Eastern Han (東漢) Dynasty (25 CE – 220 CE), a demon inhabited a river and caused a great plague (瘟疫) in Rǔ nán County (汝南縣). There was a man named Huan Jing (桓景) whose parents died from the plague, and he went to Zhongnan Mountain (終南山) to learn skills (拜師學藝) to defeat the demon. An immortal (仙人) named Fei Zhangfang (費長房) gave him a blue dragon sword (青龍劍) capable of conquering evil spirits. Huan Jing worked extra hard to learn the skills. One day, Fei Zhangfang said to him, “The plague demon is coming on ninth day of the ninth month. Go back to get rid of the demon now.” He then handed Huan Jing a bag of zhuyu (茱萸)(dogwood leaves) and a bottle of chrysanthemum wine (菊花酒), asking Huan to direct his family and the villagers to ascend a high mountain to avoid the disaster. Thereafter Huan Jing returned to his hometown.
Right on that day, Huan Jing led his wife, children as well as other villagers to climb a mountain nearby. Huan Jing handed out the dogwood leaves to them so that the plague demon dared not get close. He poured the chrysanthemum wine out and had each one take a sip to avoid the plague. Huan Jing then went down the mountain.
As predicted, the demon emerged from the river. It got dizzy from the scent of the zhuyu and the chrysanthemum. Then Huan Jing killed the demon with the sword. Thereafter, people living in Rǔ nán handed down the story. The custom of climbing mountains, drinking chrysanthemum wine and holding onto dogwood on the ninth day of the ninth month have become a tradition.
Another version of the story is the immortal asked Huan Jing to take his family and villagers early in the morning to go up to the mountain with zhuyu and chrysanthemum wine on the ninth day of the ninth month. After sunset Huan and others went back to the village and found that all their livestock had died. Since then, people went up the mountain every year to escape from disaster on the ninth day of the ninth month.
Famous poems On Chongyang Festival
Shi (詩): “Double Ninth, Remembering my Shandong Brothers” (九月九日憶山東兄弟), by the Wang Wei (王維) (699 CE – 761 CE)
As a lonely stranger in a foreign land,
Longing to be home for the festival.
Far away, I know my brothers have reached the mountain peak;
They are wearing the zhuyu, but one is not present.
Ci (詞): ‘Tipsy Under the Flowers’《醉花陰》by Li Qingzhao (李清照) (1084 CE – c 1155 CE)
Light mists and heavy cloud of incense,
a day of sorrow that would never end.
Ruì nǎo incense oozing from the animal-shaped censer’s maw.
The Double Ninth Festival comes again (still alone I remain).
First chill of midnight infuses my silken-netted cage (around my bed) and
touches my jade pillow.
After dusk I drink wine by the Eastern Hedge,
My sleeves filled with fragrance and gloom.
Vain to deny grief:
when the west wind uprolls the blind,
this would show a visage is more frail than the yellow flower.
(Adapted from the translations by John Minford, A Silver Treasury of Chinese Lyrics and Xu Yuanzhong 100 Tang and Song Ci Poems)
Paintings of chrysanthemums by Mr IP Chit Hoo (葉哲豪老師)
The Chrysanthemum flowers painting in the Featured Image is also a masterpiece by Mr Ip dated 2001 (辛巳).
Patrick expresses his most sincere gratitude to Professor P Lam for kindly giving him the first painting as a free gift and Mr Ip Chit Hoo for the second painting. Both paintings are very precious to Patrick.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornus_officinalis (Cornus officinalis)
Cheang, Alice W (2003) A silver Treasury of Chinese Lyrics A Renditions Book ISBN 962-7255-28-0
Xu Yuanzhong (2007) 100 Tang and Song Ci Poems 唐宋詞一百首 CPG-International-Sydney ISBN 978-1-921099-23-6