In China, September is welcomed with “Chrysanthemum Day,” a celebration of autumn. The chrysanthemum is an auspicious flower, also referred to as one of the “Four Gentlemen of China” along with the plum blossom for spring, the orchid for summer and the bamboo plant for winter. Chrysanthemum, pronounced “ju” in Chinese, is phonetically similar to the word “jiu,” which can mean either “long time” or the number “nine”. And so, chrysanthemums are honored on September 9th (9/9), considered to be one of the luckiest days of the year. Moreover, since the word nine is homophonous with the word for “long time,” Chrysanthemum Day is also a day for honoring elders.
According to one legend, Fei Ch’ang-Fang, the legendary clairvoyant of the Han dynasty, advised a follower to take his entire family far from their home to a distant hill on the 9th day of the 9th month to avoid hardship. He told each family member to carry a red bag with a spray of dogwood inside. Each person was told to wear the dogwood while climbing the hill and then to drink chrysanthemum wine at the top. Upon retuning to their home, they realized the trip was a lucky excursion, averting them from great tragedy. Therefore, on September 9th, climbing hills, wearing dogwood sprays and drinking chrysanthemum wine have become traditional activities believed to invoke good luck and the avoidance of misfortune. The date continues to be celebrated today by visiting gardens, creating paintings and poetry about flowers, drinking chrysanthemum wine and eating rice cakes.
More than 3,000 varieties of chrysanthemums bloom in China today. Cultivated over hundreds of years, many of the earliest varieties are documented in the Chrysanthemum Book of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The flower itself has proven medicinal properties, and chrysanthemum tea is used to treat a variety of ailments. The tea is prepared with dried chrysanthemum blossoms steeped in hot water and mixed with sugar or wolfberries.
Chrysanthemum stones are found in China’s Hunan Province. They are dark gray limestone specimens of volcanic origin embedded with celestite crystals that look like Chrysanthemums, the official symbol of the Imperial Family of China. The availability of these stones will soon be limited because areas where they are mined will be flooded with water released by the Hunan Dam. Some reports indicate that this will occur as soon as this year. Chrysanthemum stones possess deep symbolic meaning and are truly collectors’ items. Some believe that having a Chrysanthemum stone helps one experience the passage of life in the same way the petals of a flower unfold: a process in which the occurrence of change is not perceived as unsettling or disruptive; instead, it is embraced as fluid and harmonious.