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Customs at the Double Ninth Festival
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In autumn, the Double Ninth Festival takes place on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. There are various interesting activities for the celebration, such as climbing, viewing chrysanthemums, drinking chrysanthemum wine, eating Chongyang cakes and plugging evodia, etc.



In ancient times, people used to climb high places at the festival, so the Double Ninth Festival is also called “Climbing Festival. It is said that the customs originated in the Eastern Han Dynasty. Scholars in the Tang Dynasty often wrote poems about climbing, mainly on the customs of the festival. For instance, a seven-character "regulated" verse named Climbing by Du Fu is one of the masterpieces. There are no fixed places for climbing but often high mountains and high towers. People eat Chongyang pastry that day as well.


Eating Chongyang pastry

According to the historical data, Chongyang pastry is also known as flower pastry, chrysanthemum pastry or five-color pastry. It is often cooked without fixed formula but with much flexibility. At dawn, people put pastry on the forehead of their children, mumbling some words for good luck. Delicate pastry is nine-leveled, like a tower, with two sheep on the top, the same accent of Chongyang. Some put a little red flag and candle on the pastry. Perhaps climbing is represented by lighting the candle and eating the pastry. The little red flag is the substitute for the evodia. Chongyang pastry today still includes various types of pastry for the festival.


Viewing chrysanthemums as well as drinking chrysanthemum wine

The Double Ninth Festival falls in the autumn, when chrysanthemum blossoms. It is said that the customs of viewing chrysanthemums and drinking chrysanthemum wine originated from Tao Yuanming, a famous poet in the Jin Dynasty. Tao was famous for his seclusion, poetry and his love for wine and chrysanthemum. The posterity followed him and thus the customs prevailed. Literati and scholars-bureaucrat in old days combine the chrysanthemum view with the banquet to get closer with Tao Yuanming. The chrysanthemum view was prevalent in Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty. There were all kinds of chrysanthemum in different poses and with different expressions. Folks called the lunar ninth month as “the chrysanthemum month”. At the Double Ninth Festival, when the chrysanthemum is in full bloom, view chrysanthemum becomes a significant event. From the Qing Dynasty, chrysanthemum viewing has prevailed, though not only at the festival, but especially around the festival.


Plugging evodia and wearing chrysanthemum

The custom of plugging evodia at the festival was already prevalent in the Tang Dynasty. According to the ancient people, it could avoid difficulties and disasters to plug evodia at the festival. Some wore it on the arm or on the head, and some included it in the sachet and wore it inside the clothes. Usually only women and children wore it, but in some places, men wore it as well. The custom was recorded in Chang’an Anecdotes written by Ge Hong in the Jin Dynasty. Besides this, some wore chrysanthemum on the head. From the Tang Dynasty, this custom was already prevalent and it also lasted afterwards. In the Qing Dynasty, Beijing natives used to paste chrysanthemum leaves on doors and windows in order to “pursue good fortune and avoid disasters”. It was a variant of wearing chrysanthemum on the head. In the Song Dynasty, some cut colorful silk into the shape of the evodia and chrysanthemum.


Customs at the Double Ninth Festival in Different Places

Besides the general customs mentioned above, different places have their unique styles.


In the north of Shan’xi, people are normally harvesting around the festival. There is a song singing like this: “At the Double Ninth Festival, we are busy with harvest of grain and millet”. In the daytime, people there harvest and thresh grain, while in the evening they celebrate the festival. Upon the moon climbing up to the treetop, people enjoy eating buckwheat boiled mutton. After dinner, people go out of their home in twos and threes. They climb up the mountains nearby and make bonfires, chatting with each other till the cockcrow. When they climb, many pick up bunches of chrysanthemum and take home, wearing on the head of their daughters to avoid disasters.


In Puxian of Fujian Province, people follow the old customs. They steam nine-level rice cracker. In ancient times, people began to eat special food at the festival. The food means pastry or rice crackers, etc It was written in. Jade Candle Collection in the Song Dynasty that “At the Double Ninth Festival, people eat rice cracker and drink chrysanthemum wine. Meanwhile, they harvest glutinous millet and broomcorn and use them to make food. Gradually, the customs came into being”. Song Zuqian, a Puxian poet in the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, wrote in his Ode to Fujian Wine that “The Double Ninth Festival is drawing near, so people pick up wild vegetables into baskets. After mashing, people make them round cracker and ask children to taste”. Recently, people transform the rice crackers into special nine-level ones. Wash quality late rice in the water and immerse in water for two hours. Take out of the water and leave to drain. Then, mill with water to thin paste. Add alum (dissolved in water) and stir with water. Add brown sugar board (to syrup with water). Put steam box over the boiler and put clean cooking cloth. Put rice crackers in nine times. Spread oil of groundnuts when the crackers are cooked and out of the box. The crackers may be lapped in nine levels and can be cut open with edges and corners with four structured sides. They look translucent and taste soft and sweet but will not stick teeth. It is not too much to call them the best ceremony dishes for respecting the elders at the festival.


Some people sweep their ancients graves in honor of their ancients when climbing at the festival. Puxian people worship their ancestors at the Double Ninth Festival more often than at the Qingming Festival. Therefore, the former is called the big Qingming, while the latter is called the small Qingming. Puxian is a coastal place and the festival is also the anniversary of the death of Mazu, so people often offer sacrifice for blessing at Mazu temples in Meizhou or ancestral halls of goddess and temples in Gangli.


After the establishment of new China, activities at the festival were enriched. In 1989, the festival is instituted as the Aged People’s Day. On the day, the elderly are organized in every place to climb mountains in the autumn, in a bid to broaden their horizons, share feelings and exercise. Thanks to these activities, people have chances to return to the nature and view great mountains and rivers.

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