While Malaysians are familiar Qing Ming, Hungry Ghost Festival, and Mid-Autumn Festival, very few are familiar with the Chong Yan Festival. Nevertheless, it is an important event in Chinese culture.
The Chong Yan Festival is held every 9th day of the 9th lunar month, which in 2021 falls on 14th October. As the number ‘9’ represents Yang (positive energy) in Chinese culture, it is believed that the day the festival falls on is particularly auspicious as both day and month are Yang character. For this reason, people in ancient times believe this day is worth celebrating. Hence, the festival is also called the Double Ninth Festival.
Furthermore, since “double nine” is pronounced the same as the word “forever” in Chinese, people will also perform ancestral worship on this day.
Legend & Customs
Traditionally, people would climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum wine, eat Chong Yan cakes – a tower-shaped cake that has nine layers – and wear cornel (zhu yu) leaves. It is believed that by observing these customs, you would be protected from danger.
The tradition traces back to an Eastern Han Dynasty legend. According to the legend, a community by the Ruhe River would be attacked by a plague every year because of a monster living in the river. Many people fell victim to this monster, including the parents of a man named Huan Jing.
To save his people, Huan Jing left his hometown to search for a way to kill the monster. During his travels, Huan Jing met a crane and with its guidance, led him to an immortal living on a mountain.
Touched by Huan Jing’s bravery and sincerity, the immortal accepted him and taught him how to kill the monster with the use of a magic sword. After much practice, Huan Jing mastered swordplay and the skills necessary to use the magic sword, and it was finally time for him to leave. Before they parted, the immortal gifted Huan Jing with pack of cornel leaves and a bottle of chrysanthemum wine.
“It will be on the 9th day of the 9th month, when the plague monster will strike again. You are now ready to get rid of this evil. Take these cornel leaves and chrysanthemum wine, for they will grant protection against the monster’s plague,” said the immortal. Huan Jing then returned home quickly by riding the crane.
On the morning of the 9th day, Huan Jing led his people to the top of a nearby mountain for safety. He gave each person a piece of cornel leaf to prevent the monster from coming close. He also told them to drink some of the chrysanthemum wine to prevent them from getting the plague.
When the monster rose from the river and found not a single person in the villages, it dashed to the mountain. Yet when it arrived, the monster stopped at the foot of the mountain for the scent of cornel and chrysanthemum repelled it.
Then Huan Jing appeared to challenge the monster and an epic battle began. Eventually, Huan Jing emerged victorious and killed the monster.
Ever since the legend became known, the act of ascending to places of great height came to represent one entering into safety.
In the event when one cannot hike up a mountain or reach a similarly high place, some will eat cakes instead. This is because the pronunciation of cake, ‘gao’ in Chinese, sounds the same as the word for ‘high’. As such, Chong Yan cakes came into being as a dedicated cake for this festival.
The significance of chrysanthemums and cornel leaves, already long considered to possess cleansing qualities and used in other occasions to air out houses and cure illnesses, became more entrenched in Chinese culture through the legend.
Thus, the tradition of the Chong Yan Festival began and continues on to this day.
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