Qi Xi Jie
Chinese Valentine's Day
Qixi Festival (Chinese: 七夕节; literally "The Night of Sevens"), also known as Magpie Festival, falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month on the Chinese calendar; thus its name. It inspired Tanabata (七夕) in Japan, Chilseok (칠석) inKorea, and Thất Tịch in Vietnam. It has sometimes been called Chinese Valentine's Day (Chinese: 情人節; pinyin: Qíng rén jié) since the late 1990s, which is, strictly speaking, an inaccurate portrait of the festival.
Girls traditionally demonstrate their domestic arts, especially melon carving, on this day and make wishes for a good husband. It is also known by the following names:
- The Festival to Plead for Skills(Chinese: 乞巧节; pinyin: qǐ qiǎo jié)
- The Seventh Sister's Birthday, especially in Cantonese, (Chinese: 七姊誕; Mandarin Pinyin: qī zǐ dàn; Jyutping: cat1 zi2 daan3)
- The Night of Skills (Chinese: 七夕; pinyin: qi xī)
The story of the cowherd and the weaver girl
See also: The Princess and the Cowherd
A young cowherd, hence Niulang (Chinese: 牛郎; pinyin: niú láng; literally "[the] cowherd"), came across a beautiful girl--Zhinü (Chinese: 织女; pinyin: zhī nǚ; literally "[the] weavergirl"), the seventh daughter of the Goddess, who just had escaped from boring heaven to look for fun. Zhinü soon fell in love with Niulang, and they got married without the knowledge of the Goddess. Zhinü proved to be a wonderful wife, and Niulang to be a good husband. They lived happily and had two children.
But the Goddess of Heaven (or in some versions, Zhinü's mother) found out that Zhinü, a fairy girl, had married a mere mortal. The Goddess was furious and ordered Zhinü to return to heaven. (Alternatively, the Goddess forced the fairy back to her former duty of weaving colorful clouds, a task she neglected while living on earth with a mortal.)
On Earth, Niulang was very upset that his wife had disappeared. Suddenly, his ox began to talk, telling him that if he killed it and put on its hide, he would be able to go up to Heaven to find his wife.
Crying bitterly, he killed the ox, put on the skin, and carried his two beloved children off to Heaven to find Zhinü. The Goddess discovered this and was very angry. Taking out her hairpin, the Goddess scratched a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever, thus forming the Milky Way between Altair and Vega.
Zhinü must sit forever on one side of the river, sadly weaving on her loom, while Niulang watches her from afar while taking care of their two children (his flanking stars βand γ Aquilae or by their Chinese names Hè Gu 1 and Hè Gu 3).
But once a year all the magpies in the world would take pity on them and fly up into heaven to form a bridge (鹊桥, "the bridge of magpies", Que Qiao) over the star Deneb in the Cygnus constellation so the lovers may be together for a single night, which is the seventh night of the seventh moon.
Variations of the story
- It was said that the Goddess of Heaven, out of pity, decided to let them unite once on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month as she was touched by their love for each other.
- In some versions it is the Emperor of Heaven, the cowherd's father, or the cowherd's mother who has the role of separating the lovers for them to focus on their work instead of romance.
- The star Deneb is a fairy who acts as a chaperone when the lovers meet on the magpie bridge.
- Rather than once a year, there is a version where the lovers were permitted to reunite once a month.
- There is a belief that sometime during the night of Qixi, the two stars Altair and Vega will actually unite on the same side of the Milky Way.
- Similar stories are told throughout Asia: in Japan, Korea, Thailand, Laos and Indonesia. In South-east Asia the stories were known as Sudhana Jataka, believed to be one of the stories of the past lives of the Buddha, or the jataka.
In popular culture
- Barry Hughart's fantasy novel, Bridge of Birds, is loosely based upon this story, though the two figures are switched. The girl is forced to remain on earth, while her male paramour is in the heavens. She is a peasant girl, and he shepherds the stars.
- In the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid, the protagonist attends this festival with his female companion and sees the story reenacted in a shadow play.
- American post-hardcore band La Dispute's song "Four" is written about an alternative version of this story, with a Great King taking the role of separating the lovers, due to her neglecting her duties at the loom. In this version the lovers are a princess and a shepherd, and it replaces all the mythology in the original story. La Dispute's first LP has a recurring theme of this story, including the album title: Somewhere At the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair.
- In Kamen Rider Den-O, the series' second rider, Kamen Rider Zeronos, was based heavily on this legend. His Altair form had the motif of a bull (linking to Altair's occupation as a cowherd), his Vega form uses a spool of thread for the visor (linking to Vega's occupation as a weaver). The sole link between the forms is an imagincalled Deneb, linking to the bridge that can reunite the lovers.
Qixi originated during the Han Dynasty. It came from people's worship of the stars. On Qixi, a festoon is placed in the yard and single or newly married women in the household makes an offering to Niulang and Zhinü consisting of fruit, flowers, tea, and face powder. After finishing the offering, half of the face powder is thrown on the roof and the other half divided among the young women of the household. It is believed that by doing this, the women are bound in beauty with Zhinü.
Another tradition is for girls to throw a sewing needle into a bowl full of water on the night of Qixi as a test of embroidery skills. If the needle floats on top of the water instead of sinking, it proves the girl is a skilled embroideress. Single women also pray for finding a good husband in the future. And the newly married women pray to become pregnant quickly.
People say that on this day it will rain, because of the crying in heaven. Others say that if you stand under grapevines on this night, you can hear the lovers talking.
The seventh day of the seventh lunar month falls on:
- 6 Aug 2011
- 23 Aug 2012