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Chinese festivals: the Double Ninth Festival

Too much yang

The Ninth Festival or the Double Ninth Festival, is observed on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese calendar, is a traditional holiday mentioned in writing before the East Han period (AD 25). Like all Chinese festivals, it is steeped in tradition and meaning. The day has too much of the traditional Chinese concept of yang and is understood to be a potentially dangerous date. It is customary to climb a mountain, drink chrysanthemum liquor and wear the zhuyu plant, to protect yourself against the abundance of the yang energy. Both chrysanthemum and zhuyu are considered to have cleansing qualities and are used on other occasions to air out houses and cure illnesses.

Nine is a yang number and indicates positivity and brightness as opposed to yin, which is feminine and means negativity and darkness. Too much yang is an excess of male qualities such as rage, aggression, violence, excitement, tension, heat, etc. that need yin to resolve them. If they remain unresolved, they lead to destruction, illness, and death.

And too many grass fires

On this holiday, some Chinese visit graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. In Hong Kong, whole extended families go to ancestral graves to clean them and repaint inscriptions, and to lay out food offerings such as roast pig and fruit, which are then eaten (after the spirits have consumed the spiritual element of the food). Chongyang cake is also popular, as is the burning of incense. Cemeteries get crowded, and each year grass fires are inadvertently started by the burning incense sticks.

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Chinese festivals are steeped in tradition and legend

China is a country full of tradition and legend. It probably has more in common with the exploits of Greek Gods and Nordic Gods, than anything that came about AD. Most Western civilizations that believed in mythology was eradicated and replaced with Christianity and other secular ideas.

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In China, old traditions still play a part in everyday life. An example being the drinking of hot water to balance adults yang energy.  How much they believe varies from place to place around China, and depends on the generation, with the younger generations being much more cynical. Nonetheless, Chinese festivals are observed by all.

Huan Jing

The origin of the Ninth Festival can be traced to a man named Huan Jing, who lived in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25- 220) and was aware of a monster who brought disease to his people. The parents of Huan Jing had died because of the monster’s magic. To rid his people of the monster, Huan Jing went to extraordinary lengths to find an immortal to teach him swordsmanship.

On the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, Huan Jing returned to his hometown, carrying a bag of dogwood and some chrysanthemum wine. He led all the people from his village, who were each holding a piece of dogwood and a cup of chrysanthemum wine, to the nearest mountain and told them to hide there, while he went to defeat the monster. At noon, when the monster came out from the Nu River, the monster suddenly stopped because of the fragrance emitted from the dogwood and the chrysanthemum wine, and Huan Jing was able to plunge his sword into his heart. Later, people celebrated Huan Jing’s victory over the monster on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month.

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Driving away danger

The Double Ninth Day may have originated as a day to drive away danger, but like the Chinese New Year and other Chinese festivals, over time, it became a day of celebration. In contemporary times, it is an occasion for hiking and chrysanthemum appreciation. Stores sell rice cakes, with tiny colorful flags to represent zhuyu. Most people drink chrysanthemum tea, while a few traditionalists drink homemade chrysanthemum wine. Children learn poems about chrysanthemums, and many localities host chrysanthemum exhibits. Mountain climbing races are also popular; winners get to wear a wreath made of zhuyu. All the aspects of the original meaning are there – gaining protection by climbing a mountain, drinking chrysanthemum liquor and the wearing of zhuyu. The yin is nurtured to resolve the excess yang.

A day of poetry

There is an oft-quoted poem about the holiday, Double Ninth, Remembering my Shandong Brothers, by the Tang Dynasty poet, Wang Wei. Chinese festivals are often commemorated with poetry.

‘As a lonely stranger in a foreign land,
At every holiday my homesickness increases,
Far away, I know my brothers have reached the peak,
They are wearing the zhuyu, but one is not present.’

The Double Ninth Festival is a golden time of the year. The first person who purportedly enjoyed chrysanthemums and drank chrysanthemum wine on the Chongyang Festival day was the poet Tao Yuanming, who lived during the Jin Dynasty. There is a great poetic tradition in China, celebrating this golden time of the year. Chong meaning double and yang the masculine principle of the universe combine to make this day full of the energy and in need of some yin to even the day.

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