By Zhang Qian
BEIJING, Oct. 12 (Xinhuanet) -- The Chong Yang Jie, or Double Ninth Festival, was traditionally a festival to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum wine and wear zhu yu (cornel) leaves.
With nine believed to be a yang (“warm”) energy number, the Double Ninth Festival, observed on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, is believed to be a day with too much yang energy. This year it falls tomorrow.
Climbing high, drinking chrysanthemum wine and wearing zhu yu are all customs to protect people from danger. Both chrysanthemum and zhu yu are considered to have cleansing qualities and are used on other occasions to air out houses and cure illnesses.
The tradition can be traced back to a legend in the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220). It’s said that people by the Ruhe River were annually attacked by the plague because of a monster living in the river. The monster killed many people, including the parents of Huan Jing.
The young man left his hometown to search for a way to kill the monster. He toured around the country and, with the guidance of a crane, eventually met an immortal living on a mountain.
Touched by Huan’s bravery and sincerity, the immortal accepted him and taught him how to kill the monster with a magic sword. When Huan mastered the skills after much practice, the immortal asked him to leave.
“It will be the ninth day of the ninth month tomorrow, when the plague monster will do evil things again. You are now ready to get rid of the evil,” said the immortal, while giving him a pack of zhu yu leaves and a bottle of chrysanthemum wine.
Huan returned home quickly by riding the crane. On the morning of the ninth day, Huan led the people to the top of a nearby mountain to avoid the plague. He gave each person a piece of cornel leaf to prevent the monster from coming close. He also told each one to drink some chrysanthemum wine to prevent them from getting the plague.
Not finding any people in the villages, the plague monster dashed to the mountain foot, yet stopped in fear when it smelled the cornel and chrysanthemum.
Huan appeared and fought the monster, eventually killing it with his magic sword. Though the people were never attacked by the monster again, the tradition of ascending a height continues until today.
Many people also keep the tradition of drinking chrysanthemum tea, while a few traditionalists still drink homemade chrysanthemum wine. Mountain-climbing races are also popular on the day and winners get to wear a wreath made of zhu yu.
When one cannot reach a high place, some will eat cake instead since the pronunciation of cake, gao, in Chinese sounds the same as the word “high.” That is the origin of Chongyang cakes, a festival snack made of rice and flour.
A delicate Chongyang cake will be made into a tower-like shape with nine layers. Two sheep (yang in Chinese) are on the top to coincide with the festival name.
Mini colorful flags are inserted on the cake, symbolizing zhu yu for the day.
(Source: Shanghai Daily)