Double Ninth Festival: chrysanthemum flowers in full bloom

Double Ninth Festival falls on the 9th day of the 9th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. In 2016 it falls on October 9. On the festival, people hold many activities in celebration, such as enjoying the chrysanthemum, wearing Zhuyu, eating flower cakes, and climbing mountains.

double ninth festival

Chrysanthemum Flower. Photo by Partha Kar (CC)

Thinking of My Brothers in Shandong on the Double Ninth Festival

By Wang Wei (AD701-AD761). Translated by Feng Huazhan

All alone in a strange land,
How I long for my folks on this
festive day!

I imagine my brothers climb up
a hill, dogwood on heads,
And all except me merrily go
their way.

This poem with regard to the traditional Chinese festival, the Double Ninth, has long been popular. The author is the famous poet Wang Wei in Tang Dynasty (AD618 – AD907) .

九月九日忆山东兄弟 (唐)王维

独在异乡为异客,
每逢佳节倍思亲。
遥知兄弟登高处,
遍插茱萸少一人。

Confucius Institute Reporter
Zhang Rui
 Hati, who’s from Indonesia, is relatively new to China, yet when talking about the Double Ninth Festival he has all its customs and practices well in mind. “It was from Zhang Yimou’s film Curse of the Golden Flower that I first learned about this Chinese festival,” said Hati enthusiastically. He was deeply impressed by a scene in the film featuring a Double Ninth Festival dinner banquet: chrysanthemum flowers in full bloom carpeted the entire courtyard in front of an imperial palace, with the emperor and the empress each holding a golden chalice on a platform erected amidst the flowers. This year, Hati not only got to finally experience the Double Ninth Festival in China, but also made a short video recording of it to share this experience with his friends Indonesia.

double ninth festival
The aged often gather in parks, dancing to enhance their physical health.

The Double Ninth Festival is observed on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, a date considered auspicious, because ancient Chinese people believed the number “nine” is symbolic of light and happiness. It has been customary to climb high and wear the zhuyu plant on this date in order to ward off misfortune.

It is with family members that people enjoy climbing heights and wearing zhuyu. “I imagine my brothers climb up a hill, dogwood on heads, and all except me merrily go their way” is but one of the numerous widely quoted literary utterances of Chinese who, traveling far away from home on this date, found in verse a spontaneous outflow of feelings born of the occasion.

The custom of climbing is still alive today, but today people consider it more an occasion to exercise and release stress than to dispel misfortune and invoke blessings.

double ninth festival

In Chinese, “ 九 九 jiǔ jiǔ” (nine nine) sounds exactly the same as “ 久久 jiǔ jiǔ”, which signifies longevity. As this corresponds with our modern pursuit of a healthy life, on the Double Ninth people present wishes of a peaceful and long life to their elders. Mr. Zhang, already a father, gave his parents each a physical examination card as a present for this year’s Double Ninth Festival. He also took them to Beijing’s Zhongshan Park to see the annual chrysanthemum exhibition.

“Honor the aged of other families, as we honor our own”, goes a Confucian classic. Expansion of this familial love into a societal love is modern China’s newest interpretation of this ancient festival.

The Double Ninth Festival is in late autumn, when the chrysanthemum blooms in defiance of the frost while all other flowers are withering. Chrysanthemum exhibitions are common in all parts of China. A moving story about the Double Ninth Festival and the chrysanthemum has been passed down by generations of Chinese people. A farmer who had lost his father at an early age lived with his mother, each depending on the other for survival. In order to cure his mother of an eye ailment, he tramped over hill and dale in search of an effective medicine. His persistence moved a chrysanthemum fairy, who bestowed upon him a white chrysanthemum that bloomed only on the Double Ninth Day. The farmer then boiled the petals of the white flowers to make a decoction that cured his mother.

As Chinese society develops, the Double Ninth Festival has waxed in its cultural significance. In 1989, the Chinese national government designated this date as Honor-the-Elderly Day, in order to reinforce the collective ethos of respecting and honoring the elderly. Every year on the Double Ninth Day, throughout the country, there are a wide variety of Honor-the-Elderly activities, such as sports meets and free park and museum admissions just for them. “Honor the aged of other families, as we honor our own”, goes a Confucian classic. Expansion of this familial love into a societal love is modern China’s newest interpretation of this ancient festival.

Customs of the Double Ninth Festival

double ninth festival

CHRYSANTHEMUM APPRECIATION

At a time when chrysanthemum flowers are in full bloom, Double Ninth Day chrysanthemum exhibitions are held all across the country. Chrysanthemums have been grown in China for 3,000 years. It is a popular practice to make wine and tea with chrysanthemum flowers.

double ninth festival

CLIMBING

Climbing on the Double Ninth Day has been customary for almost 2,000 years. People usually climb a high mountain or a tall pagoda, investing the act with a dispel-misfortune, invoke-blessings symbolism.

double ninth festival

EATING FLOWER CAKES

Flower cakes, aka Double Ninth cakes, where in the word“ 糕 gāo”(cake) sounds exactly the same as the word“ 高 gāo”(high), symbolizes a step-by-step rise. How to make flower cakes varies from one Chinese region to another, but chrysanthemum flowers are most commonly used as the filling.

double ninth festival

WEARING ZHUYU

Intensely aromatic, the zhuyu plant is said to provide talismanic protection for its wearer.

More about Chinese Festivals on ConfuciusMag:


Confucius Institute Magazine 5

pdfPublished in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 05. Volume V. November 2009.
View/Download the print issue in PDF

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