The Double Ninth Festival, which falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month in the Chinese calendar, features a variety of customs and activities. During this festival, people engage in various traditions, such as climbing mountains, paying respects to ancestors, wearing zhuyu (a type of plant) and chrysanthemum, appreciating chrysanthemums, drinking chrysanthemum wine, eating Double Ninth cakes, and showing respect for the elderly.
Chrysanthemums, known as the "flower of longevity," hold a special place in Chinese culture. As the saying goes, "only chrysanthemums flourish when the frost comes." Due to the unique characteristics of chrysanthemums, they symbolize vitality and longevity. Traditionally, chrysanthemum viewing has been an essential part of the Double Ninth Festival. This is why it's sometimes referred to as the Chrysanthemum Festival. People believe that chrysanthemums represent longevity, and during the Double Ninth Festival, many places hold chrysanthemum exhibitions, attracting residents to come out and enjoy the flowers.
Chrysanthemum wine, known as a "lucky wine" in ancient times, is a customary beverage for the Double Ninth Festival. It was believed to ward off disasters and bring blessings, which is why the tradition of drinking chrysanthemum wine has been retained throughout the ages. Chrysanthemum wine brewed on the ninth day of the ninth month was seen as a tonic for health and longevity. Chrysanthemum wine is valued for its medicinal properties, including its ability to clear heat, detoxify, improve vision, disperse wind, calm the liver, and nourish the kidneys.
During the Song Dynasty, people brewed wine using chrysanthemums and zhuyu, with zhuyu symbolizing the "warding off of evil spirits" and chrysanthemums representing "guests of longevity." It was believed that these two ingredients could dispel misfortune associated with the ninth day of the ninth month. Even today in Shandong province, there is a folk rhyme that goes: "On the ninth day of the ninth month, the Double Ninth Festival, making chrysanthemum wine fills the cellar with fragrance."
The tradition of chrysanthemum wine remained popular until the Ming and Qing dynasties, and it was documented by Gao Lian in his work "Zunsheng Bajian" during the Ming Dynasty. It has continued to be a popular health tonic.
In ancient times, there was a custom of climbing mountains during the Double Ninth Festival, which is why it is also known as the "Climbing Festival." This tradition is believed to have originated during the Eastern Han Dynasty. Many poets during the Tang Dynasty composed poems about climbing, and most of them were about the customs of the Double Ninth Festival. Du Fu's poem "Climbing High," written in seven-character lines, is a famous work about climbing high on the Double Ninth Festival.
The destinations for these mountain climbs were not strictly prescribed and could include various peaks or towers. Climbing wasn't just about ascending; it also involved appreciating the red leaves and wildflowers on the mountains, as well as enjoying food and drinks. People combined climbing with outdoor feasts, making it even more appealing.
Eating Double Ninth Cakes
According to historical records, Double Ninth Cakes, also known as Flower Cakes, Chrysanthemum Cakes, or Five-Color Cakes, didn't have a fixed recipe and could be made in various ways. On the morning of the ninth day of the ninth month, people would place a piece of cake on their foreheads and recite blessings, wishing their children good fortune. This tradition of making cakes on the ninth day of the ninth month dates back to ancient times.
Elaborate Double Ninth Cakes were often made in nine layers, resembling a pagoda, with two small figurines on top, symbolizing the Double Ninth's association with the Chinese character for "sheep." Some Double Ninth Cakes also featured a small red paper flag and lit candles. This likely symbolized "lighting" and "eating cakes" in place of "climbing" and used the red paper flag instead of zhuyu. Today, Double Ninth Cakes come in various forms, and soft, cake-like treats eaten during the Double Ninth Festival are collectively referred to as Double Ninth Cakes.
Wearing Zhuyu and Adorning Chrysanthemums
Zhuyu (Cornelian cherry) holds a significant place during the Double Ninth Festival. People also enjoy wearing chrysanthemums during this time. Zhuyu is aptly known as the "Talisman Against Evil," while chrysanthemums are often referred to as "Guests of Longevity."
Zhuyu is a type of fruit that can be used in traditional Chinese medicine, with the best quality coming from the Wu region (modern-day Jiangsu and Zhejiang areas). When zhuyu matures after autumn, the fruit appears yellow when young and turns into a purple-red color when ripe. It is believed to have beneficial effects such as warming the middle, relieving pain, and harmonizing qi.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the activities during the Double Ninth Festival took on new meanings. In 1989, China designated the Double Ninth Festival as Senior Citizens' Day. On this day, various regions organize outings and mountain climbs for the elderly. These activities help broaden horizons, foster social connections, exercise the body, and encourage people to reconnect with nature while developing a deep love for the nation's landscapes and culture.