Drinking the morning green tea, The monk is calm. The flowers of chrysanthemum. -- Basho
When the Japanese adapted the Chinese 24 season calendar into 72 seasons they created a series of micro-seasons. Each one of these micro-seasons lasts five or six days. Today, we are in the micro-season of “The Chrysanthemum Flowers” (Oct 13- Oct 17), which is part of the mini season Cold Dew (Oct 8 – October 22)
This season marks the time of the Chongyang Festival, or the Double Ninth Festival. This festival is traditionally held on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month. “In Chinese, nine is regarded as the number of Yang (which means masculine as opposed to Yin which is feminine). The ninth day of the ninth month is the day that has two Yang numbers, and ‘chong’ in Chinese means double, which is how the name Chongyang was created.”(1). This has become a time for people to gather, drink chrysanthemum wine, read poetry, eat Chongyang cake, and show their prize flowers.
Since this holiday is connected to the lunar months, its date changes. In 2021, this festival will happen on October 14. In 2022, it will be held on October 4, and in 2023, the festival will be held on October 23.(1)
Like many festivals and traditions, the Double Ninth Festival has part of its roots in folklore. This particular festival is based on the legend of Huan Jing.
Legend of Huan Jing
Around the time of the East Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD), there was a devil that lived in the Ruhe River. When the devil appeared, many people became sick with a plague and died.
A man named Huan Jing lived along the river. One year, he and his parents became sick with the plague. Huan Jing survived his illness, but his parents died. After his recovery, Huan Jing left his village in search of the Immortal with hopes that he would teach him how to get rid of the devil and the plague.
Huan Jing traveled a great distance and finally found the Immortal living in the mountains. The Immortal was so impressed by Huan Jing’s commitment to his people that he took him on as an apprentice. Huan Jing spent many years with the Immortal learning the skills to be an expert with the demon-slaying sword.
One day, the Immortal came to Huan Jing and told him that it would soon be the ninth day of the ninth month and the devil would return and bring sickness to the land. This was Huan Jing’s opportunity to return to his village and use his newly learned skills to defeat the devil. Huan Jing quickly left the mountains bringing with him the demon-slaying sword, expert martial arts skills, many cornus leaves (Zhuyu leaves) and a bottle of chrysanthemum wine.
He arrived in the village the night before the devil was to return. In the morning, Huan Jing ushered all the villagers up the mountainside and gave them each a cornus leaf and a glass of chrysanthemum wine. Around midday, the sky became dark and the wind began to howl. The devil emerged from the Ruhe River and rushed towards the village ready to cause sickness and suffering.
However, the devil was stopped in his tracks by the sweet smell from the chrysanthemum wine and the cornus leaves. The devil was unsure of what was happening. When the devil stopped to try and make sense of the situation, Huan Jing rushed down the mountain with his demon slaying sword and engaged the devil in battle. After many rounds of intense combat, Huan Jing landed a fatal blow on the devil and the plague was eliminated from the land.
Since that time, people have climbed mountains, drank chrysanthemum wine, and carried cornus leaves on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. This is also why this festival is alternatively called the “Height Ascending Festival”. (2)
Poems about the Double Ninth Festival
Wang Wei a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty is said to have written this poem about the day.
On the Mountain Holiday Thinking of my Brothers in Shandong All alone in a foreign land, I am twice as homesick on this day. When brothers carry dogwood up the mountain, Each of them a branch -- and my branch missing.
The above version was translated by Witter Bynner(3). You may have noticed that the poem mentions the dogwood plant. That is because the cornus leaves identified in the legend of Huan Jing are part of the dogwood family.
Finally, we will close this investigation into the micro-season of “The Chrysanthemum Flower” with a haiku from Basho.
Bloom quickly. The ninth day is very soon. The chrysanthemum.
Even though the Double Ninth Festival isn’t a common practice in the United States, there are an abundance of chrysanthemums around this time of year. For me, these flowers represent the autumn season. Their colors compliment the changing colors of the leaves, and are definitely a sign that October is here.