Chrysanthemum Day

Chrysanthemum Day (Kiku no Sekku) is one of the five ancient sacred festivals of Japan. It is celebrated on the 9th day of the 9th month. It was started in 910, when the Japanese imperial court held its first chrysanthemum show. Chrysanthemums are the symbol of the Imperial House of Japan.

The Chinese consider the chrysanthemum the flower of autumn. It is a member of the compositae family, which includes daisies and sunflowers. They come in many different classes based on the characteristics of the flowers including pompon, quill, spider, brush, thistle, single, incurve and spoon.

A special chrysanthemum cake called Chung-Yang cake is eaten on this holiday. Because the Chinese words for cake and high sound the same, so one can eat a cake instead of going for a hike. It is a steamed cake made from flour and sugar, stuffed with chestnuts, pine nuts and other types of nut, and crowned with colorful paper flag. I couldn’t find a recipe for it online, except for a very fancy wedding cake from Martha Stewart, but there are lots of ads for chrysanthemum shaped bundt pans.

History
According to one legend, Fei Ch'ang-fang of the Han dynasty advised his follower to take his whole family to the hills on the 9th day of the 9th month. He advised him to make red bags for each member of the family and put a spray of dogwood inside which they would wear while they climbed, and they were to drink chrysanthemum wine at the top of the hill. They followed his instructions and when they returned home in the evening, they found all their domestic animals dead. Since then climbing the hills, wearing dogwood and drinking chrysanthemum wine became traditional activities on this day, as a way to avoid evil spirits and misfortune.
Other activities that are popular include sipping chrysanthemum wine and tea made from chrysanthemum petals, admiring the flowers in gardens and floral exhibitions, and honoring the flowers by painting them and writing poems in their honor.
Hiking up the hill also implies that one will ascend in one’s career. The word nine is homophonous with the word for “long time,” which is one reason that elders are honored on this holiday.