The Qixi Festival is celebrated annually in China and parts of Japan and Korea as it rendezvouses between a fairy and a human whose love was forbidden in Chinese mythology. As the festival is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month it is also known as the Double Seventh Festival. The festival encapsulated the meaning of true love which is equivalent to Valentine’s Day. One could say that Qixi Festival is Valentine’s Day in China.
Falling on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, Qixi is the only Chinese festival devoted to love and romance. The festival is celebrated in the memory of the star-crossed lover- a weaver and a cowherd.
The legend of the two separated Chinese lovers has been celebrated since the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD).
The folklore dates to more than 2,000 years and speaks a thousand languages of love- if anything, tragic. The legend follows the love between a cowherd on Earth, Niu Lang, and a weaver maiden Zhi Nu, who was the seventh daughter of the Jade Emperor and Mother Queen of the Heaven.
In the celestial court of Jade Emperor lived seven princesses each chosen their place in the court. The youngest daughter possesses a special skill, she could pluck clouds from the sky and spin them in the softest robes ever. Her work was so precise that the whole court wore clothes made by her and even the experts couldn’t find a fault in it. But her craft remain the same, as she had no inspiration other than the clouds to spin robes. Day by day nothing changed, and she longed for inspiration. The Queen Mother sensed this and granted Zhi Nu permission to visit earth.
The other princesses accompanied her to protect their sister from any danger. The princesses were dressed in special robes that would allow them to fly from heaven down to the earth. The sisters soon ascended on earth and were in awe of the flowing rivers and the hills. They decided to take a swim in one of the glittering streams. Zhi Nu was so happy that she dreamed of staying forever.
In the meanwhile, a cowherd approached the riverbank to pay a visit to his deceased parents’ grave. He came here often to sweep and speak to his only friend- a bull. The bull was his only companion and would listen to the cowherd patiently. But that day, when the cowherd caught the sight of the weaver, he forgot his daily routine and was mesmerized by her beauty. He wanted to approach her but due to his reserved routine, he struggled. Seeing his plight, the bull instigated his friend to make a move and offered some advice. The bull was a magical being and thus told the cowherd to weaver’s celestial origin and her dream to stay forever. But she could only remain if she lost her ticket back, that is her magical robe.
As the cowherd approached the sister’s group, all the princesses flew away in fear leaving their dreaming sister behind. The cowherd hid the weaver’s magical robe and in return offered his clothes to Zhi Nu. He gained the weaver’s trust and they both together explored the countryside. Zhi Nu was moved by the cowherd’s caring nature and within no time the duo had fallen deeply in love. They both got married and built a prosperous life for themselves. The cowherd’s farm flourished while the weaver taught her skills to the fellow villagers. Soon, the couple was blessed with two children. But as the children grew, the bull was growing old. Before the bull took his last breath, he told the family to keep his hide and use the magic in his time of need.
Seeing her husband’s grief, the weaver could not help but wonder about the well-being of her other family and thus decided to pay a visit to heaven. But when she visited her home, no one seems to be surprised to see her. The weaver realized that barely any time has passed since she left, as a year on earth was merely a day in heaven! When her family learned about Zhi Nu’s earthly life, they were infuriated. The Queen Mother pulled her golden magic pin and thrashed it through the sky. The crash created a milky way with heaven on one side and earth on the other.
The cowherd witnessed the tore and realized that his wife is in danger. He trembled but also remembered the bull’s last word. He placed each child in a basket and drape the bull’s pelt on his back as he soared upwards in the sky. Above the clouds, the lovers tried to pass through the crack but the more they struggled the wider the gap grew. Day after day, the Queen Mother watched without pity as the weaver and the cowherd has nothing but just the passing magpies to cheer them up.
Finally, their love moved the Queen Mother’s heart, and she allowed the weaver to meet her earthly family once every year. The magpies formed a bridge over the gulf reuniting the weaver and the cowherd.
This time of the year is celebrated as Qixi Festival as millions of people remember the tale of these happy yet tragic lovers and celebrate their reunion. In the old-time stargazing in the night sky on Qixi was a tradition as the two stars Altair and Vega on either side of the Milky way represent each lover. Traditionally, young couples would visit temples seeking a lifelong bond while the young girls would pray to the weaver in the hope to find a better husband. Nowadays, many modern Chinese, particularly youngsters, view Qixi as the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day.