The Double Seventh Festival (Qixi Festival) is one of Chinese traditional festivals, and also known as a Chinese Valentine's Day. It falls on the seventh day of the seventh Chinese lunar month. In 2016 it falls on August 9 (Tuesday). There is no public holiday for this festival.
The Double Seventh Festival date is based on the lunar calendar, therefore the date varies from late July to late August on the Gregorian calendar.
The Double Seven Festival is the most romantic among traditional Chinese festivals. The day is also now known as Chinese Valentine's Day.
The main participants in this festival are young women, and the main activities are to demonstrate their domestic skills; pray for happiness, wealth, and longevity; worship Zhinü (the weaver god), and make wishes for a good husband.
On May 20, 2015, the Double Seventh Festival was added to the National Intangible Cultural Heritage list by the State Council of China.
The Double Seventh Festival has been celebrated since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).
There are many variations in Double Seventh Festival customs across China. The most popular customs include demonstrating domestic skills, worshiping Zhinü the Weaver, celebrating the birthdays of cattle, and making and eating 'skill fruit'.
The most popular custom during the Qixi Festival is women "pleading skills" (demonstrating dexterity) on the evening of the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. Although there are many domestic skills demonstrated across China, some common activities among most young women include threading a needle and carving fruits.
Threading a needle is the longest standing means to "plead skills". The demonstration calls for speedily threading a needle under moonlight. The custom originated from the Han Dynasty and quickly became a widespread required skill for young women to demonstrate.
Young women often carve fruits into exotic flowers, animals, and unusual birds. The most common way to demonstrate dextrous fruit-carving skill is to carve images on the smooth skin of a melon.
The Double Seventh Day was once given great importance by young women and young married women, who, according to customs passed down by theie elders, followed the custom of worshiping Zhinü(侄女 zhínǚ /jrr-nyoo/ 'brother's daughter / niece').
The activity was organized by sisters (and female cousins). They usually prepared 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 would sit around the table and display their beautiful needlework to show their skills. They would also watch the Vega constellation, and pray for a good husband and a happy life. After that, they would play games or read poems until midnight.
On the Qixi Festival, children pick bunches of wild flowers and hang them on oxen horns.
The custom of honoring oxen is in honor of the legendary ox, which remembered Niulang's kindness and in gratitude tried to repay it. According to legend, the old ox sacrificed himself and offered its own hide to allow Niulang to fly to heaven and pursue Zhinü. See below.
On the day of Qixi, people usually eat skillfully-made snacks (巧果 qiǎo guǒ /chyaoww-gwor/ 'skillful fruit'): fried, thin pastries of different shapes, made from oil, flour, sugar, and honey.
They are cooked as follows:
First put some sugar into a pot and boil it into a syrup, then add flour and sesame seeds, and mix into a dough.
Put the dough on a table, and roll the pastry out until very thin. Cut the pastry into squares and fold them into fusiform shapes (wide in the middle, tapering at he ends). Lastly, fry the pastries until they turn golden yellow.
Many of the traditional customs are disappearing, or no longer observed. You are more likely to find them practiced in rural areas.
Now people usually celebrate Chinese Valentine's Day by giving flowers, chocolates, and other presents, like for Western Valentine's Day, to their loves instead of doing the traditional customs.
In Chinese cities, Western Valentine's Day is now more popular than Chinese Valentine Day with young people.
However, the love story of Niulang and Zhinü has taken deep root in the hearts of Chinese people, and it has been, and probably always will be, told from one generation to the next.
It is believed that the Qixi Festival originated from the romantic legend of Niulang the cowherd (牛郎 Niúláng /nyoh-lung/ 'ox youth') and Zhinü the weaver girl (织女 Zhínǚ /jrr-nyoo/ 'brother's daughter / niece (brother's side)'). The legend is popular among Chinese people. Almost everyone knows it, old and young.
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 him badly. They kicked him out of the house, and all he had in the world were the clothes on his back and an old ox.
The ox actually 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. Niulang once saved the ox when it was sick.
In order to show its gratitude to Niulang, the old ox helped Niulang get acquainted with Zhinü (a fairy, the seventh daughter of a goddess) when she escaped from her boring life in heaven to look for fun on the earth. Zhinü soon fell in love with Niulang and they got married without the knowledge of the goddess.
Niulang and Zhinü lived a happy life together; Niulang worked in the field while Zhinü did weaving at home. After a few years passed, they had two children, one boy and one girl.
However, happy times didn't last long; the Goddess of Heaven (Zhinü's mother) found out that Zhinü, a fairy girl, had married a mere mortal. The goddess was furious and sent celestial soldiers to bring Zhinü back.
Niulang was very upset when he found his wife was taken back to heaven. Then his ox asked Niulang to kill it and put on its hide, so 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.
Just before he caught up with Zhinü the goddess of heaven took out her hairpin and created a huge river between them, and they were separated forever by the river that later became to be known as the Milky Way.
Heartbroken, he and his children could only weep bitterly. However, their love moved all of the magpies in the world to take pity on them, and they flew up into heaven to form a bridge over the river, so Niulang and Zhinü could meet on the magpie bridge.
The goddess was also moved by their love, so she allowed them to meet each other on the magpie bridge on that day every year (the seventh day of the seventh lunar month).
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