|Also called||Qiqiao Festival|
7th day of 7th month
|2012 date||23 August|
|2013 date||13 August|
|2014 date||2 August|
|2015 date||20 August|
|Literal meaning||Night of Sevens|
|Literal meaning||Beseeching Skills|
Qixi Festival (Chinese: 七夕), also known as the Qiqiao Festival (Chinese: 乞巧節), is a Chinese festival that celebrates the annual meeting of the cowherd and weaver girl in Chinese mythology. It falls on the seventh day of the 7th month on the Chinese calendar. It is sometimes called the Double Seventh Festival, the Chinese Valentine's Day, or the Magpie Festival. This is an important festival, especially for young girls.
The festival originated from the romantic legend of two lovers, Zhinü and Niulang, who were the weaver maid and the cowherd, respectively. The tale of The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd has been celebrated in the Qixi Festival since the Han Dynasty. The earliest-known reference to this famous myth dates back to over 2600 years ago, which was told in a poem from the Classic of Poetry. The festival inspired Tanabata in Japan and Chilseok in Korea.
The general tale is about a love story between Zhinu (the weaver girl, symbolizing Vega) and Niulang (the cowherd, symbolizing Altair). Their love was not allowed, thus they were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River (symbolizing the Milky Way). Once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a flock of magpies would form a bridge to reunite the lovers for one day. There are many variations of the story. A variation follows:
A young cowherd, hence Niulang (Chinese: 牛郎; literally "cowherd"), came across a beautiful girl--Zhinü (simplified Chinese: 织女; traditional Chinese: 織女; literally "weavergirl"), the seventh daughter of the Goddess, 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 (鹊桥, "the bridge of magpies", Que Qiao) 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.
Young girls partake in worshiping the celestials (拜仙) during rituals. They go to the local temple to pray to Zhinü for wisdom. Paper items are usually burned as offerings. Girls may also recite traditional prayers for dexterity in needlework, which symbolize the traditional talents of a good spouse. Divination could take place to determine possible dexterity in needlework. They make wishes for marrying someone who would be a good and loving husband. During the festival, girls make a display of their domestic skills. Traditionally, there would be contests amongst young girls who attempted to be the best in threading needles under low-light conditions like the glow of ember or a half moon. Today, girls sometimes gather toiletries in honor of the seven maidens.
The festival also held an importance for newly-wed couples. Traditionally, they would worship the celestial couple for the last time and bid farewell to them (辭仙). The celebration stood symbol for a happy marriage and showed that the married woman was treasured by her new family.
During this festival, a festoon is placed in the yard. Single and newly-wed women make offerings to Niulang and Zhinü, which may include fruit, flowers, tea, and face powder. After finishing the offerings, half of the face powder is thrown on the roof and the other half divided among the young women. It is believed that by doing this, the women are bound in beauty with Zhinü. Tales say that it will rain on this fateful day if there's crying in heaven. Other tales say that you can hear the lovers talking if you stand under grapevines on this night.
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.
In popular culture
- Barry Hughart's fantasy novel, Bridge of Birds, is loosely based upon this story, though the two figures are switched. The girl is forced to remain on earth, while her male paramour is in the heavens. She is a peasant girl, and he shepherds the stars.
- In the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid, the protagonist attends this festival with his female companion and sees the story reenacted in a shadow play.
- American post-hardcore band La Dispute's song "Four" is written about an alternative version of this story, with a Great King taking the role of separating the lovers, due to her neglecting her duties at the loom. In this version the lovers are a princess and a shepherd, and it replaces all the mythology in the original story. La Dispute's first LP has a recurring theme of this story, including the album title: Somewhere At the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair.
- In Kamen Rider Den-O, the series' second rider, Kamen Rider Zeronos, was based heavily on this legend. His Altair form had the motif of a bull (linking to Altair's occupation as a cowherd), his Vega form uses a spool of thread for the visor (linking to Vega's occupation as a weaver). The sole link between the forms is an imagin called Deneb, linking to the bridge that can reunite the lovers.
- An interactive Google Doodle was launched on Qixi Festival 2009 to mark the occasion, http://www.google.com/doodles/qixi-festival-2009.
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