UPDATED FOR 2017
Today is the Chung Yeung Festival or Double Ninth. On this day, Chinese families gather at the grave sites of their forebears for picnics and to engage in ancestor worship. Because of the warm temps and low humidity the risk of fire is high.
The Chung Yeung Festival falls on the 9th day of the 9th month on the Lunar Calendar. It is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture.
Double Ninth falls on 28 October in 2017. It will fall on 17 October in 2018, 7 October in 2019, and 25 October in 2020.
Known as Chong Yang (or 重陽節) in Mandarin, the Chung Yeung Festival dates back to the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD).
According to legend, a fortune-teller advised a man to take his family into the hills on the 9th day of the 9th month of the Lunar Calendar. When they returned to their village the following day, they discovered that everyone there had been slaughtered.
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For this reason, it is customary for Chinese people to hike into the hills on this day.
They also visit grave sites – which are often located on hillsides – to have picnics, set off firecrackers, and burn paper offerings to their forebears, a practice that is sometimes referred to as ‘ancestor worship’.
Suckling pig, fruit, and chung yeung cakes are first offered to ancestors and then consumed by picnickers. The Chinese are too practical to leave the offerings behind, as would be done in most other cultures.
Grave sites are also tidied up and inscriptions are repainted.
In many ways, Chung Yeung resembles Ching Ming, or the Grave-sweeping Festival (清明节), which is celebrated each year on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox.
Ching Ming, which is spelled Qing Ming in pinyin, will fall on 5 April in 2018 and 2019. It will fall on 4 April in 2020.
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The skies in Hong Kong are sunny today 28 October 2017), which is both good news and bad news. It is good news for celebrants because the balmy weather with mild temps and relatively low humidity will offer a perfect atmosphere for hiking and picnicking.
But it is bad news for firefighters and the environment. Hundreds of fires break out in the New Territories during the Chung Yeung and Ching Ming festivals each year.
With a predicted high temperature of 28 degrees Centigrade (84 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity levels as low as 40%, the fire risk in Hong Kong today is exceptionally high.
I’ve witnessed the hillside facing my country abode in Hong Kong’s northernmost New Territories go up in flames at least six times since moving here 20 years ago, and it is a very depressing sight.
Worst of all, the blazes – which are caused by extremely careless celebrants – leave behind a charred landscape, and it takes several years for the vegetation to grow back.
And as soon as it does, there is another conflagration.
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Double Ninth in Other Countries
In addition to Hong Kong, Double Ninth is celebrated in other parts of Greater China: China itself, Macau, and Taiwan.
Double Ninth is also celebrated is other Asian countries that have been influenced by Chinese culture.
Chung Yeung is is known as the Chrysanthemum Festival (菊の節句) in Japan, Tet Trung Cuu in Vietnam, and Choi Ikhyeon (崔益鉉, 최익현) in Korea. But it is not an official holiday in any of those countries.