Today is Qi Xi Festival (七夕節 ; qī xī jié)! Also known in recent years as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
Falling on the 7th day of the 7th month on the Chinese (Lunar) calendar, it is sometimes known as the ‘Double Seven Festival’. In Japan, it is called the ‘Tanabata Festival’. This year in 2009, the Chinese Valentine’s Day falls on 26th of August on the Gregorian Calendar.
Girls, if you live in China, rejoice! For you have not one, but two Valentine’s Days and probably twice the presents and celebrations in a year! Guys may not be as thrilled though..
The origins of Qi Xi Festival comes from a romantic but sad Chinese fairytale, “Cowherd and the Weaver Girl” (牛郎与织女 ; niú láng yú zhī nǔ). The tale tells of the story of a pair of star-crossed lovers, almost in the style of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, except a little less tragic.
A moral cowherd and a fairy from the heavens immersed in their forbidden love, faced great objections from the Heavenly Empress. They were eventually separated. Every year on this faithful day, legend says, thousands of magpies form a bridge, transcending the barrier between the mortal and heaven worlds, to allow the pair of lovers to meet just on that special day.
The entire story of “Cowherd and the Weaver Girl” can be read here in our next article.
Qi Xi Festival is also known as the ‘Festival to Plead for Skills‘ (乞巧節 ; qǐ qiǎo jié). This is derived from an ancient custom, where unmarried girls would pray to ‘the Weaver Girl’, who is a fairy princess with exceptional skills in weaving, to grant them dexterous hands and needlecrafting skills. This was because in the olden days, men saw needlecrafting skill as an important requirement in their potential wives.
Customs vary from place to place within China. In some parts of Shandong Province, fruits and pastries are placed as offerings, and if spiders wove webs on them, it would mean that their prayers were heard and answered by ‘the Weaver girl’ fairy.
Some would visit the temple on this day to pray to the matchmaking god for luck in their love lives.
Other regions, seven friends would have a gathering to make dumplings. In three of the dumplings, they would hide a needle, a copper coin and a red date. When the dumplings are distributed, the one who finds the dumpling with the needle will be blessed with needlework skills, the coin with good fortune and the red date with an early marriage.
You need not worry about finding a needle or a copper coin in your dumpling. Most of these customs are not practised in these days. More and more young people in China now celebrates Qi Xi Festival in the same way the Valentine’s Day is celebrated in western worlds.
Modern celebrations usually involve flowers, presents and romantic dinners for the younger couples. Some families take this opportunity to hold family events, or barbeque get-togethers in backyards or parks.
There are also events organised by local communities. For example in Hangzhou, by the famous Xi Hu (West Lake), there is a ‘Qi Xi Speed Match-making Event’ where crowds gather in fun and jovial atmosphere and keeping secret hopes of finding their Mr or Miss Right from the group activites. Nan Jing also holds a similar match-making event, attracting huge crowds yearly.
Recent years saw a trend in giving anklets as a romantic gift for your partner as a symbol of ‘binding’ him or her in your life forever.
No matter how you celebrate your Qi Xi Festival, with or without anklet presents and needle dumplings, it is a day to spend with your loved ones and let them know they are cherished and treasured.