Cold Dew (Hanlu) falls on October 8 this year on the Gregorian calendar. Dew is seen as an indicator of the start of the cold season in China. Compared with White Dew (Bailu), the temperature around Cold Dew is much lower and dew on the ground almost turns into frost. It’s a transition from coolness to coldness, after which, the temperature drops fast and the nights turn frigid. Clear skies, golden leaves… the north of China is now in late autumn.
The change of season is apparent around the Cold Dew. There’s a sharp contrast between South and North China. In the north, snow can be seen in some areas, while in the south, the cool autumn is just beginning.
This is the prime season to appreciate chrysanthemums across the country. Chinese people have appreciated them since ancient times for their hardiness and colorfulness. Poems about chrysanthemum flowers are also plentiful. Apart from enjoying the blooms, people also drink chrysanthemum wine.
Wild geese fly southward between the White Dew and Cold Dew. At this time, the wild geese that set out earlier have already arrived. As the saying goes “first come, first served,” those that arrive in the south last are treated by the first arrivals as “guests.” There’s a leader who leads the flock, and the followers fly in a row or a “Y” formation, which changes from time to time.
There’s an important festival associated with Cold Dew, which is the Chongyang Festival or the Double Ninth Festival. It is on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month on the Chinese calendar. People go on sightseeing tours, climb mountains, carry dogwood, and eat Double Ninth cakes to celebrate this exciting festival. Since autumn is the golden season for harvesting, people have always had a special feeling for this festival.
Chinese ancients believed that nine was the largest number. According to the yin/yang dichotomy that forms the basis of the Chinese view of the world, yin represents the elements of darkness and yang represents life and brightness. The number nine is regarded as yang. Hence the name Chongyang, meaning “double yang.” In addition, the Chinese word for “nine” is a homophone for “long,” so “double ninth” implies a long and healthy life. Aptly, the festival is traditionally a holiday for the elderly.
There are many poems written about this festival. The most popular one is “Thinking of My Brothers in Shandong on the Double Ninth Festival” by Wang Wei (701-761):
All alone in a foreign land
I am twice as homesick on this day.
When brothers carry dogwood up the mountain
Each of them a branch – and my branch missing.