On August 20th this year, the Chinese people will celebrate their own unique version of Valentine’s Day, known as Qi Xi. As with many other Chinese festivals, the exact date changes every year; its planned according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, which is slightly different from our western Gregorian calendar. In Chinese, this festival is also called the Double Seven Festival because it falls on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar, much like the Dragon Boat Festival is called the “Double Fifth Festival” because it is on the 5th day of the 5th month. The Chinese name, Qi Xi (七夕) also gives this away as Qi (七) means seven and Xi (夕) means night. Qi Xi is also sometimes called The Daughter’s Festival as it relates to unmarried girls looking for love.
The Qi Xi originates from an ancient legend of love. The full-extent of the legend is rather long, but generally its a story of forbidden love between a cowherd and a weaver girl. As the legend goes, the boy is literally named cowherd (niu lang, 牛郎) and the girl is named weaver girl (zhi nü, 织女). They fall deeply in love, but much like modern stories like Romeo and Juliet, their love was not allowed. The legend says, the girl’s mother banished the lovers from seeing each other, and placed them on opposite sides of the Silver River (the Milky Way). But, because their love was so strong, everyone felt sorry for them and wanted them to be together. Every year on the seventh day of the seventh month, a flock of magpies would fly together to form a bridge for the two lovers to walk across, so they could be with each other for one night. This night became known as Qi Xi.
Throughout China you can find several variations of this story. In some versions the girl was a fairy who was weaving beautiful clouds in the sky; her mother was a goddess, and the weaver girl was her seventh daughter. The girl escaped heaven and came across the boy. They fell in love, were secretly married, and had two children. But, when the goddess found out her fairy daughter married a mortal, she became furious and banished them. In another version, the girl was taken back to heaven to weave clouds, a task that she had neglected during the time she was with her mortal husband. When she suddenly disappeared, the boy felt very sad. His ox then began to talk to him, saying that if he killed it and lay it on its side he would be able to go to heaven to find his wife. He killed the ox, took its skin and his two children, and went to heaven to find his wife. When the goddess found out she became angry, took out her hairpin and scratched a wide river in the sky (the Milky Way) to keep them apart. This version also includes the magpies forming a bridge so the two lovers could meet for a single night.
In rural regions of China, the Double Seven Festival is still celebrated, although not as much as it used to be. Girls would pray to Zhi nü; they hoped for her sewing skills and her sweet love. However, in the cities, this tradition has been replaced with the Western Valentine’s Day, which falls on February 14th of every year. But, there are still a lot of young people who celebrate Qi Xi as they would Valentine’s Day. They go out for dinner, take their crush on a date, bring gifts of flowers, chocolate and cards, and express their love in a manner of different ways.
An interesting note is that it almost always rains on this day. It’s said if it rains on Qi Xi, it’s the river sweeping away the magpie bridge between the two lovers, or the rain is the tears of the two separated lovers. The forecast calls for rain today, so we’ll assume the lovers are saying their goodbye’s until they meet again next year (*sob*).
Photo credit: The Moon of the Milky Way (Ginga no tsuki), before 1892
By: Mikkel Larsen