Qi Xi Festival in China is actually referred to as Chinese Valentine’s Day. It takes place on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The festival celebrates a nearly 2,000-year-old fairy tale originating from the Han Dynasty. This year the Qi Xi festival will be celebrated on the 17th of August.
The story is about two star constellations. Vega, portrayed as Zhinü, a weaver girl, and Altair, Portrayed as Niulang, a cowherd. Because their love wasn’t allowed they were banished to opposite sites of the Silver River. (The Milky Way). Once a year a flock of magpies would form a bridge so the lovers could reunite for just that day. the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. Here is one of the variations of the story;
A young cowherd, hence Niulang (牛郎; “cowherd”), came across a beautiful girl—Zhinü (織女; “weavergirl”), the Goddess’s seventh daughter, who had just escaped from boring heaven to look for fun. Zhinü soon fell in love with Niulang, and they got married without the knowledge of the Goddess. Zhinü proved to be a wonderful wife, and Niulang to be a good husband. They lived happily and had two children. But the Goddess of Heaven (or in some versions, Zhinü’s mother) found out that Zhinü, a fairy girl, had married a mere mortal. The Goddess was furious and ordered Zhinü to return to heaven. (Alternatively, the Goddess forced the fairy back to her former duty of weaving colorful clouds, a task she neglected while living on earth with a mortal.) On Earth, Niulang was very upset that his wife had disappeared. Suddenly, his ox began to talk, telling 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 Zhinü. The Goddess discovered this and was 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. Zhinü must sit forever on one side of the river, sadly weaving on her loom, while Niulang watches her from afar while taking care of their two children (his flanking stars β and γ Aquilae or by their Chinese names Hè Gu 1 and Hè Gu 3). But once a year all the magpies in the world would take pity on them and fly up into heaven to form a bridge (鵲橋; “the bridge of magpies”) over the star Deneb in the Cygnus constellation so the lovers may be together for a single night, which is the seventh night of the seventh moon. However, sometimes in the year, there are no stars relating to the mythology appearing in the sky.
Traditionally girls/woman have to take part in worshipping Celestials. They should pray for wisdom, dexterity in needle work and wishing for marrying a good and loving husband. They burn paper items as offerings. During the festival girls will display their skills as a wife. Traditionally they would have contests in the best threading of needles under low light. (just the glow of an ember or a half moon). These days girls gather toiletries in honor of the seven maidens.
The festival also held an importance for newlywed couples. Traditionally, they would worship the celestial couple for the last time and bid farewell to them. The celebration was a symbol for a happy marriage and showed that the married woman was treasured by her new family. During this celebration single and newly wed woman make offerings to the couple. usually fruit, flowers, tea and face powder. The face powder would be divided at the end of the festival, half would be thrown onto the roof (??) and the other half would be divided between the young women. It’s believed that the women bond in beauty with Zhinü.
On this day, the Chinese gaze to the sky to look for Vega and Altair shining in the Milky Way, while a third star forms a symbolic bridge between the two stars. It was said that if it rains on this day that it was caused by a river sweeping away the magpie bridge or that the rain is the tears of the separated couple. Based on the legend of a flock of magpies forming a bridge to reunite the couple, a pair of magpies came to symbolize conjugal happiness and faithfulness.
Children also pay homage to Oxen by picking wild flowers and decorating the horns to remember the ox that died for Niulang.
These days however, many young couples celebrate Qixi in the same way as the western world does, by going on romantic dates and showering each other with love and affection.
Another festival named as Valentine’s day
On the last day of the Chinese New Year week the Chinese hold a Lantern Festival.
The Lantern Festival or the Spring Lantern Festival is a Chinese festival celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunisolar Chinese calendar. It marks the final day of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations and falls on some day in February or March in the Gregorian calendar. As early as the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE-CE 25), it had become a festival with great significance. During the Lantern Festival, children go out at night to temples carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns.
In ancient times, the lanterns were fairly simple, and only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate ones. In modern times, lanterns have been embellished with many complex designs. For example, lanterns are now often made in the shape of animals. The lanterns can symbolize the people letting go of their past selves and getting new ones, which they will let go of the next year. The lanterns are almost always red to symbolize good fortune.
In Hong Kong and Taiwan, it is commercialized as the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day. It is not to be confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival; which is sometimes also known as the “Lantern Festival” in locations such as Singapore and Malaysia.
In the early days, young people were chaperoned in the streets in hopes of finding love. Matchmakers acted busily in hopes of pairing couples. The brightest lanterns were symbolic of good luck and hope. As time has passed, the festival no longer has such implications in most of China, but it is still commercialized as the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Now the Chinese Lantern Festival is becoming popular in Western countries. In London, the United Kingdom has the Magical Lantern Festival.