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Chongyang Festival: China's Day for The Elderly
October fifth that just passed was Chinese Chongyang Festival, or the Double Ninth Festival, which is on September ninth in Chinese lunar calendar. Chongyang was originated from the admiration of ancient Chinese in numbers. About more than 3000 years ago, the ancients had developed the theory of Yin & Yang, and believed that all natural regulations were based on this principle. Yin means feminine, a negative principle, while Yang means masculine, a positive principle. For example, the Moon belongs to Yin, and the Sun belongs to Yang; even numbers Yin, and odd numbers Yang; women Yin, and men Yang. Yin and Yang are opposing forces, cancelling out and accord each other, which makes the nature and the human body harmoneous. Yijing, an oldest work about augury that is considered as the origin of the integration between philosophical system and physical practice in Chinese traditional culture, mentioned that "6" was Yin, and "9" was Yang. On the ninth day of the ninth month, double ninth met, which was the moment that the Sun and the Moon were both in the Yang state, and was believed to be a happy day that deserved celebrating. "Chong" in Chinese means double, and thus the Day is called "Chongyang" or "Double Ninth".
The festival was started in Warring States Period (475 B.C. - 221 B.C.), and has become popular in public since Tang Dynasty. Like other traditional festivals, Chongyang has many stories behind. The well-known and most related one is in Xu Qi Xie Ji, a book of sixth century. It is about refuting heresy. Years and years ago, there lived a young man named Huan Jing. He was learning magic arts from an immortal Taoist. One day, the teacher told him that the hometown of Huan Jing would suffer a major disaster on September ninth of that year. The only way to avoid it was that everyone tied a red bag with dogwood sprays in it to their arms, climbed up to the top of a mountain and drank some chrysanthemum wine. Then, Huan Jing went back to his hometown as soon as possible, and convinced his families and all village people to follow the instruction of his teacher. When they got back to home from the nearby mountain, all their poultry and livestock were dead. Huan Jing told everything to his teacher. The teacher said that those animals died in place of people who escaped that disaster. Since then, climbing a mountain carrying dogwood sprays and drinking chrysanthemum wine had become traditional activities for Chongyang Festival. Nowadays, the former has been a cultural remaining that was known in historic documents, literary works or in movies. As a matter of fact, dogwood is a plant with a strong fragrance, and is used in Chinese herbal medicine to function as disinfector, and thus was believed in ancient time that it could drive evils away. Besides, because of one famous poem written by Wang Wei, a famous poet in Tang Dynasty, this plant was related to miss relatives. In the poem, the poet described his personal emotion at the moment of missing his brothers and families on the beautiful Chongyang Festival.
Drinking chrysanthemum wine and appreciating chrysanthemum flowers are still popular in present days. People go outskirts with families and friends stepping on the harvest time to enjoy this golden season of autumn. Appreciating the autumn flower and drinking the flower wine are romantic and relax events. Chrysanthemum wine is made of the flower and sticky rice. The wine tastes cool and sweet, and functions to delay aging. During September ninth, chrysanthemum flowers are in bloom. This plant is one of the four plants that Chinese admire: the plum, the orchid, the bamboo, and the chrysanthemum. Some chrysanthemum exhibitions, including large-scale ones, are held in city plazas or some scenic resorts on this festival. Public people even call this month "chrysanthemum month", and may wear the flower in hair. In Beijing, the Capital city, people may paste this plant leaves or petals, real or paper-cut ones, on doors or windows to avoid evils and bring about happiness.
Besides the two typical activities, eating Chongyang cake is also necessary. Chongyang cake is also called "flower cake", because it can be made into various and colorful patterns, and there is no one fixed way to make. Some are made in the shape of chrysanthemum flowers, some in the shape of nine-floor towers, and some in the shape of two sheep (sheep in Chinese has same pronunciation with Yang), and so on. Because "cake" in Chinese is "Gao" with the same pronunciation of "highness", eating "Gao" has been developed to replace the activity of climbing mountains. Korean people has the custom of flying kites, and Japanese eat eggplant and chestnut dinners.
In present days, Chongyang is well-known by the Day of the elderly. Since nine is the highest odd digit, both nines together are taken to signify longevity. Besides, one homophony of "nine-nine" in Chinese is "long-long". Therefore, Chongyang has become a special day for people to pay respect to the elderly and a Day for the elderly to enjoy themselves. People also carry out some activities in memory of their precursors. Chongyang Festival has been declared as "the Day for the Elderly" or "the Day to Respect the Elderly" in 1989 by central government. On this day, the government promotes public activities to care, to help, to respect and to love the elderly people.