Do you know the difference between Western and Chinese Valentine’s Day? Feeling pressure to drop cash on another romantic holiday so soon after the last one?
Qixi Festival 七夕节 Qīxījié – often called “Double Seven” or “Chinese Valentine’s Day” – falls on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Before we explore the holiday’s modern practicalities, let’s flashback to its mythic origins:
there lived a mortal Cowherd 牛郎 Niúláng and his beloved Cow 牛 Niú, a former immortal (god) living in exile on Earth as a farm animal for violating an imperial rule. One day, Cow told Cowherd of a secret lake where fairies bathe, and ignoring his better instincts about taking advice from talking animals, Cowherd scurried to take a peep.
At the lake, Cowherd gazed at immortals in their divine nudity and absconded with clothes belonging to Weaving Girl 织女 Zhīnǚ. Startled by his mortal presence, the other fairies fled to the Heavens.
Weaving Girl confronted the mischievous Cowherd, who agreed to return her clothes in exchange for her hand in marriage. In a similar lapse of reason, Weaving Girl agreed to the proposal and they lived happily ever after with two remarkably well-adjusted mixed-mortality children. Meanwhile, the dying Cow offered Cowherd its magical cowhide in case of emergency.
Discovering naughty Weaving Girl’s mortal marriage indiscretion, the heaven-ruling Jade Emperor 玉皇帝 Yù huángdì ordered Queen Mother 王母娘娘 Wángmǔ niáng niáng to fetch her. Cowherd carried their kids in baskets and chased Queen Mother, escaping with helpless Weaving Girl. Queen Mother used her hairpin to slash the sky, separating them forever, and thus created the Milky Way.
Cowherd and Weaving Girl’s undying love for each other moved the Jade Emperor, who allowed them to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. Legendary bringers of good luck, magpies would form a bridge connecting the stars so they could meet.
In the constellation Aquila, the star Altair represents Cowherd together with their two children, β and γ Aquilae. On the other side of the Milky Way, lies star Vega said to be Weaving girl.
Traditionally, this festival is a time for young Chinese girls to demonstrate their domestic arts (e.g. sewing, melon carving) and pray for intelligence, good needle work and marital happiness. A girl might even drop a needle in the water, and if it doesn’t sink, that means she’s mature enough to find a husband!
These days the Qixi is celebrated much like the February 14th Valentine’s Day with material gifts and romantic gestures. Businesses take advantage of young people’s willingness to spend, giving this festival an equally commercialized feel.
If you looking to buy something for your sweetheart, here are a few suggestions courtesy of China’s taobao.com. Happy shopping!
Do you celebrate Chinese Valentine’s Day?
Any romantic (or comedic!) stories to share?
Everyone loves a good cry.
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