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Story of the Seventh Night Festival

2015-12-19 11:16:19Share:

  Qixi, or the Seventh Night Festival, falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, which is usually in early August. This year it was on Thursday, August 11.

 

  As the story goes, once there was a young lad who raised cows, Niulang (牛郎), who lived with his elder brother and sister-in-law. She disliked and treated him poorly, and the boy was forced to leave home with only an old cow for company. The cow, however, was secretly a former god who had violated imperial rules and was sent to earth in the shape and form of a cow.

 

  One day the cow led Niulang to a lake where fairies bathed on earth. Among them, there was one namedZhinu (织女), the most beautiful fairy who was renowned for her beautiful embodiments.

 

  The two fell in love at first sight and were soon married. They had a son and daughter and their happy life was made as an example for hundreds of years in China.

 

 

  Yet in the eyes of the Jade Emperor, the Supreme God in Taoism, marriage between a mortal and fairy was strictly forbidden. He sent the empress to fetch Zhinu.

 

  Niulang grew desperate when he discovered Zhinu had been taken back to heaven. Driven by Niulang's misery, the cow told him to turn its skin into a pair of shoes after it died.

 

  The magic shoes whisked Niulang up in the air. Carrying his two children in baskets strung from a shoulder pole, he went off on a chase after his fairy wife.

 

  The pursuit enraged the empress, who took her hairpin and slashed it across the sky creating the Milky Way that separated the husband from his wife.

 

  After witnessing their devotion and love for each other, the Milk Way allowed a bridge to be formed across to reunite the family annually.

 

  Even the Jade Emperor was touched, and allowed Niulang and Zhinu to meet once a year on the seventh night of the seventh month.

 

  This is how Qixi came to be. The festival can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).

 

  Traditionally, people would look up at the sky and find a bright star in the constellation Aquila as well as the star Vega, which are identified as Niulang and Zhinu.

 

 

  The two stars shine on opposite sides of the Milky Way.

 

  In bygone days, Qixi was not only a special day for lovers, but also for girls. It is also known as the "Begging for Skills Festival" or "Daughters' Festival."

 

  In the past, girls would conduct a ceremony to beg Zhinu for wisdom, dexterity and a satisfying marriage in the future.

 

  This was not the case all over China, as the festival varied from region to region.

 

  In some parts of Shandong Province, young women offered fruit and pastries to pray for a bright mind. If spiders were seen to weave webs on sacrificial objects, it was believed the Zhinu was offering positive feedback.

  In other regions, seven close friends would gather to make dumplings. They would a needle, a copper coin and a red date in three different dumplings, which represented perfect needlework skills, good fortune and an early marriage.

  Girls also held weaving and needlework competitions to see who had the best hands and the brightest mind, both prerequisites for making a good wife and mother in ancient China.

  Young women in southern China used to weave small handicrafts and embodiments with colored paper, grass and thread.

  Afterwards, they competed to pass a thread through the eyes of seven needles in a single breath.

  Nowadays, however, these ancient customs are no longer so common. More and more young people celebrate Qixi in the same way that Valentine's Day is celebrated in western countries. Hotels, restaurants and flower shops capitalize on this by offering special sales on "Chinese Valentine's Day."

  If it rains on the day, older people might say that Zhinu is crying on the day she meets Niulang and her family again. Maybe she'll also be shedding tears over the customs and traditions that are slowly being lost.

The Imperial Gardens