THE Double Ninth Festival is an important traditional festival in China, which falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar. This year, it falls on October 7. Chinese people in ancient times had the custom of climbing a height to enjoy distant views, carrying a spray of cornel and appreciating chrysanthemums on this day. Therefore, the Double Ninth Festival is also called the Mountain Climbing Festival, the Cornel Festival, or the Chrysanthemum Festival. Its origin dates back more than 2,000 years.
People enjoy an invigorating autumn climate, and climb up the city wall for a view in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province.
The origin of the Double Ninth Festival can be traced back to ancient times. In September, when crops were harvested, the people of those times held activities to worship ancestors and the Heaven, the supreme ruler in Chinese mythology, in order to express their gratitude to the Heaven and their ancestors for their benevolence. This was the original form of the Double Ninth Festival as a harvest festival in autumn.
In the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), the Double Ninth Festival had received attention, but few activities were held in the royal palace. Documents in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) also recorded the ancient custom of praying for longevity on the Double Ninth Festival. By the Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420), the festive atmosphere became more pronounced, with the custom of appreciating chrysanthemums and drinking wine established. The festival was also celebrated by the literati and poets.
In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Double Ninth Festival was designated as a formal festival. From then on, the court and the people had celebrated it with various activities. By the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), on the Double Ninth Festival, royalty in the imperial palace would eat cakes to celebrate, and the emperor himself would climb the Longevity Hill. This custom was passed down to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
In folklore, “nine” and “long” are homonyms, and nine is the largest singular number, so it means long life, health, and longevity. In 1989, China designated the Double Ninth Festival as the Seniors’ Day. In 2006, the State Council designated the Double Ninth Festival as China’s intangible cultural heritage.
Legend has it that in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), a Plague Devil roamed about along the Ruhe River, originating in central China’s Henan Province. As soon as it appeared, all families fell ill without exception and people died every day. The general public residing in this region were ravaged by the Plague Devil.
Double ninth Cake
At that time, there was a young man named Huan Jing in Runan County. One year, the plague took the lives of his parents, and he nearly lost his own life. After recovery, he left his beloved wife and his fellow countrymen and went to visit the immortals to master various skills and rid the people of the plague.
Huan Jing, after an arduous and dangerous journey, ultimately found an immortal in a mountain. The immortal, moved by his determination to serve the people, decided to accept him as an apprentice, gave him a demon-slaying sword, and taught him the art of fencing. Huan Jing practiced diligently day and night, and finally mastered martial arts.
One day, the immortal called Huan Jing to him and said, “Tomorrow is the ninth day of the ninth month, and the Plague Devil will come out to commit sinful deeds again. Now that you have learned martial arts, you should go back and cut off the evildoer for the people!” The immortal gave him a pack of cornel leaves and a bottle of chrysanthemum wine, and taught him the secret of avoiding evil. After that, Huan Jing rode a crane heading for home immediately.
Huan Jing returned to his hometown. On the morning of the ninth day of the ninth month, he led the villagers to a nearby mountain at the command of the immortal, and distributed among them a piece of cornel leaf and a cup of chrysanthemum wine. At noon, the wind howled, a murky sky enveloped a dark earth, and with shrill roars, the Plague Devil rushed out of the Ruhe River and raced down the hill. At that moment, the devil suddenly smelled the cornel and the mellow fragrance of chrysanthemum wine. His face changing abruptly, he shivered and dared not move forward. Huan Jing, with the demon-slaying sword, stormed down the mountain immediately. After several rounds of fierce battle, Huan Jing stabbed the devil to death and eliminated the plague. Later, people regarded ascending to a height on the Double Ninth Festival as a disaster-avoiding activity.