As the days grow shorter and colder, the Chinese celebrate Chongyang, an old festival honoring ancient people. Wait, no—an ancient festival honoring old people.
Chongyang is also known as Double Ninth. As the highest odd single number, 9 is considered especially lucky in Chinese culture. Chongyang falls on the 9th day of the 9th month of the Chinese calendar.
The tradition is so old that no one really knows how it began.
One story of the festival’s origin tells of a boy named Heng (or Huan) Jing who studied under a Taoist teacher. The old man warned Heng Jing how to avoid the plague that was killing the villagers of the Ruhe River region. He told the boy the devil would rise up from the water on the 9th day of the 9th month. He instructed Heng Jing to tell his townspeople to pin Cornus leaves (or tie Dogwood twigs) to their clothes, soak chrysanthemums in liquor, and climb up a nearby mountain.
Now, these days a student like Heng would do the socially responsible thing and commit his master to a hospital for the mentally unstable, but Heng Jing did as he was told. Sure enough, on the 9th day of the 9th month the devil rose from the waters. But as the devil pursued Heng Jing and his people up the mountain, the overpowering scent of the Cornus and chrysanthemum made the devil dizzy, and he fell back into the water.
Ever since, the Chinese have celebrated Double Ninth by drinking chrysanthemum wine and pinning Cornus leaves to their clothes.
One of the most popular activities of Chongyang is “Deng Gao”, which means going to a high place. Chinese families and groups trek up to the hills or mountains with dogwood twigs. Those who can’t make the trip, eat cake instead. (Gao is a homonym for both ‘high’ and ‘cake’.)
Culturally, Chongyang is enjoyed as the last time of year people can hike the mountains and enjoy the great outdoors before the onset of winter. Chongyang has a special place in Taoism. In the philosophy of yin and yang, even numbers are associated with yin while odd numbers are associated with yang. The double of the highest odd single digit represents a benevolent combo of yin and yang.