Brief Introdution of Qixi Festival
The Qixi Festival is celebrated on every 7th day of the 7th month according to Chinese lunar calendar. The festival is known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. In the past days, girls are the major part of participants of this festival and the main activity during the festival is asking for light hand (乞巧‘qi qiao’). Therefore this day is called Qi Qiao Festival or Girls Festival. It is the most romantic festival among Chinese traditional festivals. In 2019, the date of Qixi Festival is August 7th.
Qixi Festival, which is originally known as Qiqiao Festival, originated from the Han Dynasty. In the book of Xijing Za ji written by Ge Hong, a famous doctor in the Eastern Jin, there was the earliest description about Qiqiao Festival.
In ancient China, a young cowherd called Niu lang was an orphan and lived with an old cow. One day he came across a beautiful young lady, Zhinv, (织女，a weaver girl) the seventh daughter of Goddness, who was fed up with the boring heaven life and went to the earth for fun. Soon the two youngsters fell in love with each other and got married without the Goddess’s approval.Niu Land and Zhinv Are Meeting on Magpie Bridge
The Zhinv proved to be a wonderful wife and Niu lang to be a very good husband. They lived happily and had 2 adorable sons. However, the Goddess finally found out that her daughter, a fairy girl, had married a mortal. She exploded with rage and ordered the heaven troop to catch Zhinv back.
On earth, Niu lang was very sad but can do nothing. Suddenly his old cow began to talk and told him that if he kill it and put on its hide, he might be able to go to heaven to find his wife. With great sadness, Niu lang killed the cow and did as what the cow told him with his two sons.
The Goddess knew it and was very annoyed. She took out her hairpin and scratched a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever, thus forming the Milky Way between Altair and Vega.
From then on, Zhinv could only sat on one side of the river and weaved sadly while Niu lang had to forever on the other side of the river and took care of their two children. But the magpies all around the world take pity on them. Every July 7th, they would fly together to form a magpie bridge over the stars, providing a way for the two lovers to meet for a single night.
What was the Milky Way – the one that separates the lovers – made from? (Hint: it has nothing to do with the Big Bang!)
It was the silver hairpin of Xiwangmu, often referred to as the Queen Mother of the West. Mother of Zhinu and the Goddess of Heaven, she was not a big fan of giving her daughter away to a mortal and, in a fit of rage and to stop the young lovebirds from meeting, hurled her hairpin into the sky which turned into a silver river of stars.
Why can the lovers only meet once a year?
Moved by the pair’s strong love, thousands of magpies gathered to form a bridge so they could meet at the centre. Zhinu’s parents eventually gave in and allowed their annual gathering.
The cultural connotation of the magpie bridge even extends to China’s aerospace technology. In May this year, China launched a relay satellite called Queqiao – “magpie bridge”, in Chinese – to the dark side of the moon shielded from Earth’s view. The satellite will serve as the relay link to control during future missions to the moon.
Qixi is also referred to as Qiqiao Festival (‘festival to beg for dexterity’). Why?
Zhinu was a talented weaver who was responsible for weaving fairies’ clothes and colourful clouds in Heaven before she eloped with her lover. Women therefore pray to her for skilful hands at the festival as good needlework was considered to be a trait of a good wife in the past.
Traditionally, girls would make ornaments with five-coloured sewing threads to show off their nimbleness, and put out fruits for worship.
How far apart are the lovers, astronomically speaking?
According to the legend, Niulang and Zhinu rose to become stars in the end, which are now recognised as Altair and Vega respectively. In the past, girls would fixedly look up to the night sky to catch a glimpse of the two stars meeting. These two stars, which form the vertices of the Summer Triangle along with Deneb, are clearly visible during summer from places in the mid-northern latitudes.In reality, however, Sina News has reported that Altair and Vega are separated by roughly 16 light years – meaning that if Niulang blows a kiss on Altair, it will take 16 years for Zhinu to see it on Vega.
Asking for Good Embroidery Skills
In this day, girls will 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 embroiders.
Praying for Good lucky on Marriage and Family
Single women also pray for finding a good husband in the future. And the newly married women pray to become pregnant quickly.
Celebrate as the Valentine’s Day in Western Countries
As the time past, more and more young Chinese people begin to celebrate this day as Chinese Valentine’s Day because of the romantic folklore. Youngsters celebrate it in a very similar way as that in western countries.
How is the festival celebrated in different parts of the world?
In China, where it all began, people would eat traditional qiaoguo, a kind of fried pastry made from flour and sugar, and moulded into shapes of fruits or fishes. Other traditions such as incense burning, needlework competitions and offerings to Zhinu are observed in various parts of China.
The festival is called Tanabata in Japan, where it falls on July 7. Enormous colourful streamers can be seen around the country and carnivals are held. The most famous one is the Sendai Tanabata festival, held in the Sendai region, whose gaudy festive decorations recall traditional Japanese aesthetics. The festival often ends with a firework display in August.
Chilseok, in Korea, shares the date, name and gist of the story of Qixi with China. Traditionally, women would place a bowl of well water on top of earthenware urns to pray for good health and wellness for their families. Common festive foods include wheat pancakes, steamed rick cakes and dishes made of pumpkins as they flourish during this period.