Praying for health and longevity has been a constant theme of the Double Ninth Festival (also known as Chongyang Festival) since ancient times. The traditional customs of this festival have been passed down through centuries of development and evolution, carrying the essence of Chinese culture and people’s best wishes for a well-lived life.
The ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar marks the traditional Chinese festival. It was celebrated on that day because the pronunciation of the number “nine” is the same as “long time” in Chinese, which also implies longevity. Thus, people in ancient times considered it a lucky day to celebrate, and it is also the Chinese festival for the elderly.
The observation of the Double Ninth Festival can be traced back centuries. A historical record of the Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 8) states that the servants of Emperor Wudi adorned themselves with accessories made from Zhuyu, a dogwood species, ate the Chongyang cake and drank chrysanthemum wine on the ninth day of the ninth month, wishing that they would live long and full lives. The aforementioned activities thus became traditional customs which have been observed for millennia.
Huangcheng Village, located in Jincheng City of north China’s Shanxi Province is a community with more than 700 residents and is known for respecting the elderly. Here, the customs of the Double Ninth Festival have remained intact, and thus it was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2011.
Wearing dogwood is an essential part of the Double Ninth Festival. Dogwood is a medicinal plant that was used in ancient times for rituals, ornaments, and medicinal purposes, to ward off evil spirits. Since the dogwood usually ripens around the time of the Double Ninth Festival, people traditionally put dogwood branches in their hair on that day, or fashion dogwood into “pouches” to wear on their bodies hoping to get rid of diseases and ward off evil spirits.
As autumn is also the season in which chrysanthemums are in full bloom, there is a local custom of drinking chrysanthemum wine on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month.
Chrysanthemum wine is a sweet and refreshing brew made from chrysanthemum flowers. In ancient times, people believed that chrysanthemum wine, which has undergone fermentation and various processing techniques — had the effect of nourishing the liver and slowing down the aging process — and thus considered it an essential drink at the Double Ninth Festival in ancient times to dispel disasters and bring good fortune.
Chongyang cake is also a festive food eaten during the day. It can be made in various ways; most are made of glutinous rice flour and bean flour, and are fried or steamed. In Huangcheng Village, many families make nine-layer high Chongyang cakes to symbolize the longevity of the elderly. Besides, sweet and delicious cakes are the best food to add to the festive vibe and to be gifted to neighbors and friends during the Double Ninth Festival.
In addition to a nutritious and balanced diet, proper exercise is also a very important secret for longevity of life. Mountain hiking is thus one of the customs of the Double Ninth Festival. On this day, elderly people who are fit enough hike up to mountain peaks and pray for good health. It is said that the traditional custom of climbing to the peak of a mountain on the Double Ninth Festival originated from the ancient worship of mountains.
During the past 40 years, Huangcheng Village has invested more than RMB 5 million to preserve a large number of ancient buildings, hiking spots, customs, and traditions related to the Double Ninth Festival. This traditional festival has been systematically protected, inherited, and developed to ensure its authentic preservation.