The Qixi Festival, also known as the Double Seventh Day or Chinese Valentine's Day. It falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. It is also named the Qiqiao Festival, Young Women’s Day, or Daughter’s Day, as most participants of this festival are young women and the most popular activity is to plead for skills. As the most romantic day among traditional Chinese festivals, Qixi Festival is favored by young women who demonstrate their domestic arts, pray for happiness, wealth and longevity, worship Qijie (the god of the weaver), and make wishes for a good husband. Therefore, the day is also now known as Chinese Valentine’s Day.
It is believed that the Qixi Festival originated from a romantic love story, the legend of a cowherd and a weaver, and almost everyone in China, young and old, is familiar with the story, which has many variations.
Legend has it that a young, poor but kind-hearted cowherd, Niulang, lived with his elder brother after his parents passed away. Unfortunately, both his brother and sister-in-law were cruel and treated badly. They gave him little food to eat and made him work so hard that he hardly had time to sleep. One autumn, his sister-in-law asked him to pasture nine oxen, but to return with ten. Niulang could do nothing but drive the nine cattle out of the village they lived in.
While on his way to a nearby mountain, Niulang sat behind a tree feeling sad. He did not know what to do. Just then, an with white hair and beard came by and asked him what happened. Learning of his sufferings, the elder said with a smile, “Don’t be sad. There is a sick ox in Funiu Mountain. You can just go there and find the cattle. You can return home and it will be OK.”
After traveling over several mountains and valleys, finally found the sick ox, which had almost starved to death. Niulang brought bundles of grass to feed it for three days until it was full. By then, the ox began to speak and told Niulang the truth, that he was once the god of cattle in heaven, but was downgraded into the human world as an ox because he had violated the law of heaven. His broken leg could only be cured with the dew of flowers for one month. Niulang was touched and decided to take good care of the ox for one month. During the day, he collected the dew of flowers to wash the ox’s wound and at night he lay on its back and fell asleep. One month later, Niulang was very happy to see that the ox had become healthy and he returned home with ten cattle. However, his sister-in-law was so ashamed and angry that she kicked him out. All he had in the world were the clothes on his back and the old ox.
One day, the seventh daughter of a goddess, Zhinv the Weaver escaped from her boring life in heaven to look for fun. With the help of the old ox, the naughty princess soon fell in love with Niulang and they got married without the knowledge of the goddess.Zhinv proved to be a wonderful wife. She brought the silkworm of heaven to the human world and taught people how to raise silkworms, reel off raw silk from cocoons, and make beautiful and comfortable clothes.
After getting married, Niulang and Zhinv lived a happy life and had two children, one boy and one girl. But the Goddess of Heaven (or in some versions, Zhinv’s mother) found out that Zhinv, a fairy girl, had married a mere mortal. The goddess was furious and ordered Zhinv the Weaver to return to heaven.
On Earth, Niulang was very upset that his wife had disappeared, but he could do nothing. At this time, his ox told 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 Zhinv. The goddess discovered this and got 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. Niulang could not get past this wide, swollen river. Heartbroken, he and his children could only weep bitterly. However, their love moved all of the magpies in the world that took pity on them, and they flew up into heaven to form a bridge on the river. The goddess found that she couldn’t stop them, so she allowed them to meet each other on the magpie bridge on that day (the seventh day of the seventh lunar month) every year.
Later, every Double-Seventh Day girl, regardless of whether she is from a rich or poor family, puts on her holiday best to celebrate the annual meeting of the cowherd and the weaver. Parents place an incense burner in the courtyard and lay out fruits as offerings. Then all of the girls in the family kowtow to Niulang and Zhinv and pray for ingenuity.
The most popular custom during the Qixi Festival is women pleading for skills in the evening of the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. Although there are many variations across China, some common activities among most young women include threading a needle, making accessories, and carving fruits.
Threading a needle is the longest standing means to plead for skills. The skill calls for speedily threading a needle under the moon. It originated from the Han Dynasty and quickly became a widespread skill.
The custom of pleading for skills is more intriguing in some areas of Shangdong Province. Here, seven intimate women friends get together to make dumplings, and place a copper, a needle, and a date into each of three dumplings. It is believed that whoever eats the dumpling with the copper may become very wealthy, whoever eats the dumpling with the needle may be very skillful, and whoever eats the dumpling with the date may be married early.
On the day of Qixi, people usually eat Qiao Guo (fried thin pastes made from oil, flour, sugar, and honey) of different shapes. It is cooked as follows: first, put some sugar into a pot and boil it into a syrup, and then add flour and sesames and mix. Put the mixture onto a table and roll the pastry out until very thin. Cut the pastry into panes and fold them into fusiform. Last, fry the pastry pieces until they turn golden yellow.
Moreover, people often carve fruits into exotic flowers and unusual birds. The most common is to carve images on the smooth skin of a melon. In the evening, families clean yards, set tables with Qiao Guo, lotus roots, lotus seeds and other food, and sit together to watch the Weaver Star and the Cowherd Star “meet” in the sky.
The Double Seventh Day was given great importance by young women and young married women, who, according to the recollections of the elderly, followed the custom of worshipping Zhinv the Weaver. The activity was organized in advance by several intimate sisters. They usually prepare a table with tea, wine, fruits, longans, red dates, hazelnuts, peanuts, and melon seeds. On the eve of the Double Seventh Day, the young women sit around the table and put beautiful needlework on to show their fine skills. They also watch the Vega Constellation and pray for a good husband and happy life. After that, they play games or read poems until midnight.
On the Qixi Festival, children pick a bunch of wild flowers and hang them on ox horns, because, according to legend, the old ox sacrificed himself and offered its own hide to allow Niulang to fly to heaven and pursue Zhinv the Weaver. Therefore, the custom of celebrating the birthday of cattle is in honor of the legendary ox, which remembered the gratitude shown to it and tried to repay it. Check out Valentine's Day in China.