Qi Xi Festival is commonly referred as Chinese Valentine’s Day—it takes place on the seventh day of the seventh month according to the lunar calendar. The festival celebrates a nearly originating from the Han Dynasty.
The ancient story
The story says that Zhi Nu, the Jade Emperor renowned for her weaving skills, went to the mortal world and met a cow herder who named Niu Lang. But, the two fell in love with each other, they got married, and had two children. Unfortunately, Zhi Nu’s mother, the Xi Wang Mou, the queen of heaven, found out about their union, she became upset and angry, taking Zhi Nu back to heaven.
Niu Lang was heartbroken. But an old cow that Niu Lang had once rescued revealed that he was actually a god injured in the mortal world and offered him his skin once he died. He told Niu Lang his leather could be used to make shoes that could fly him to heaven.
When his cow died, Niu Lang tried to find his wife, Zhi Nu with their two children, but the queen, mother of heaven used her hair pin to break the dawn and create a river of stars that later became the Milky Way as we can see from the earth, to separate the couple. They cried a lot until, their tears touched the magpies so much that thousands of them flocked together and formed a bridge for the couple to walk on the river, finally they can be with each other. Eventually, the queen mother relented and agreed to let the couple meet one night every year on Qi Xi Day – The double seventh day, which means the seventh night of the seventh lunar month, they do with the help of their magpie friends.
How it is celebrated in China
The Double Seven Festival is the most romantic of traditional Chinese festivals, and thanks to China’s globalization it’s become known as “Chinese Valentine’s Day”. Now people usually celebrate Chinese Valentine’s Day by giving flowers, chocolates, and other presents to their loved ones, instead of doing the traditional customs.
Though in Chinese cities, Western Valentine’s Day is now more popular than Qixi with young people, the romantic legend of Niulang and Zhinü has taken deep root in the hearts of Chinese people. It probably always will be told from generation to generation.
Many of the traditional customs are disappearing, or no longer observed. You are more likely to find these practiced in rural areas:
- 1. Showing skills (demonstrating dexterity) was the most popular custom for women in the evening of Qixi. The longest standing way to “plead skills” was to speedily thread a needle under moonlight. Young women also carved exotic flowers, animals, and unusual birds, usually on a melon skin.
- 2. Worshiping the weaver fairy (the star Vega), Zhinü (/jrr-nyoo/) involved a table of offerings: tea, wine, fruits, longans, red dates, hazelnuts, peanuts, and melon seeds. In the evening young women sat around the table, displaying their needlework, gazing at Vega, and praying for a good husband and a happy life. Then they’d play games or read poems until midnight.
- 3. Honoring oxen: Children picked bunches of wild flowers and hung them on the horns of oxen in honor of the legendary ox. See below.
- 4. People made and ate ‘Skill Fruit’ (巧果 qiǎo guǒ /chyaoww-gwor/ ‘skill fruit’): fried, thin pastries of different shapes.
The Double Seventh festival in Japan
The festival is said to have been introduced to Japan in the 8th century and widespread since the Edo period. In Japan, especially in Sendai and Hiratsuka and Tōhoku, this festival is also known as “Tanabata” and is held for the first time on July 7, with many decorated images. From the paper, on the night before, there was fireworks at Nishi-kōen park. Then the festival continued to expand in many regions until mid-August.
According to custom, people lay down the paper according to 7 popular shapes, such as Orizuru, Kamigoromo, Kinchaku, Toami, Kuzukago, etc. or to give each other as a wish for good luck.
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