Even if you aren’t superstitious, it’s hard to deny that October has a special sort of magic. You’re probably familiar with All Hallows Eve and Dia de los Muertos, two holidays this season that celebrate the spirit world and our ancestors, but have you ever heard of the Chongyang Festival? The Chongyang Festival, alternately known as Double Ninth Day or the Chrysanthemum Festival, originated in China and is named so because it falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar, a dangerous day that has too much yang.
The origins of this holiday are pretty interesting. It’s said that during the Eastern Han Dynasty, a river demon caused a plague that killed nearby villagers, including the parents of a man named Huan Jing. He vowed to kill the river demon and sought out an immortal to teach him swordsmanship and the dark arts. One day, the immortal revealed to him that the demon would appear on the ninth day of the night month, his one chance to defeat the river demon. Huan Jing returned to his village and led the villagers up a mountain, protected by just a dogwood leaf and cup of chrysanthemum wine. The aroma of the two plants made the demon dizzy, and Huan Jing was able to defeat the demon and rid the land of disease.
Since then, it’s become a local tradition to climb a mountain, drink chrysanthemum tea, eat chongyang cake, and wear dogwood for protection. Because the pronunciation of “double ninth” and “forever” is the same, the Double Ninth Festival came to be a time to make offerings at one’s ancestors’ graves and honor the elderly. In Japan, kiku ningyo, the art of crafting chrysanthemum dolls, also became popular; the impressive dolls are put on display throughout October and November.
If you’re worried about demons and too much yang on Wednesday, you can climb the nearest mountain, drink some chrysanthemum tea, or make this healthy chrysanthemum greens salad that I whipped up just for the occasion. In case you didn’t know, the chrysanthemum flower isn’t the only edible part of this widely-celebrated plant. Chrysanthemum greens, or tongho in Mandarin and shungiku in Japanese, are rich in vitamins and minerals and commonly used in hotpot or prepared as a side dish. On the coming 21st of October, light some incense for your ancestors, call your grandma, and cook up some shungiku sesame salad to ward off the evil spirits.
Shungiku Goma-ae Salad (Yield: 5 servings)
4 cups chrysanthemum greens
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon sugar
- Toast sesame seeds on medium heat. When they begin to brown, remove from heat and grind for one minute.
- Add soy sauce, sake, and sugar to sesame seeds and mix.
- Flash boil the chrysanthemum greens for 30 seconds (They cook very fast, so be careful not to overcook). Rinse with cold water, then wring out with your hands to dry. Cut the greens into small pieces.
- Pour sesame dressing on top and serve.