Saturday, 2 August 2014

Qixi Festival 七夕節 (Chinese Valentine's Day)

7th Day of the 7th Month of the lunar year

Also known as the Qiqiao Festival (Chinese: 乞巧節), Qixi 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.

Mythology - The general tale is about a love story between Zhinu (the weaver girl, symbolizing Vega) and Niulang (the cowherd, symbolizingAltair). 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: "weaver girl"), 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 and Hè Gu). 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.

Traditions - 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

The Chinese Valentines Day Story

As any Chinese grandmother will tell you, the ancient celebration of true love dates back centuries when Zhinu (織女 Weaving Girl) fell in love with a young farmer named Niulang 牛郎. Sadly, there is a classic complication - our heroine is the granddaughter of the Lady Queen Mother!

Even though the law strictly forbids relationships between mortals and immortals, the rebellious young couple fall in love and eventually marry anyway - when the unthinkable happens. Upon the discovery of their relationship, the Lady Queen Mother forces Zhinu to return to heaven, never to see Niulang again.

Steadfast and true, Niulang refuses to give up. He flies to Zhinu's side (with the help of a magic ox) only to have the Lady Queen Mother step in once again. She uses a hairpin to draw the Milky Way across the sky to separate the couple forever.

And there Zhinu and Niulang remain, separated for 364 days of the year - except for Chinese Valenine's Day - when the Lady Queen Mother takes pity on them by sending a flock of magpies to bridge the gap between the lovers and reunite them.

Today, on Chinese Valentine's Day, school children are asked to search the heavens where Zhinu can be found in the star Vega east of the Milky Way, and for her beloved Niulang, who steadfastly waits for her in the constellation Aquila, west of the Milky Way.

According to legend, on Chinese Valentines Day magpies can scarcely be seen, since they are spreading their wings to form the bridge in the heavens to reunite the couple once again. The evening of Chinese Valentine's Day is traditionally reserved for star gazing, and the classic retelling of the tale of Zhinu and Niulang

The Story of the Chinese Valentine's Day

Chinese Valentine's Day is on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month in the Chinese calendar. A love story for this day is about the 7th daughter of Emperor of Heaven and an orphaned cowherd. The Emperor separated them. The 7th daughter was forced to move to the star Vega and the cowherd moved to the star Altair. They are allowed to meet only once a year on the day of 7th day of 7th lunar month.

The story began from the good-looking poor orphaned boy living with his elder brother and sister-in-law. After his parents past away, his brother inherited the house and the land. The boy owned an old ox. He needed to work on the farm's field with the ox everyday. So he was called a cowherd. His daily life was just like in a Cinderella story.

The 7th daughter of Emperor is good at handcrafting, especially weaving clothing. So she was called a Weaving Maid. The Emperor likes her skill to weave clouds and rainbows to beautify the world.

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Qixi -- the Chinese Valentine's Day

If it rains heavily on Thursday night, some elderly Chinese will say it is because Zhinu, or the Weaving Maid, is crying on the day she met her husband Niulang, or the Cowherd, on the Milky Way.

Most Chinese remember being told this romantic tragedy when they were children on Qixi, or the Seventh Night Festival, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, which is usually in early August. This year it falls on Thursday, August 11. 

As the story goes, once there was a cowherd, Niulang, who lived with his elder brother and sister-in-law. But she disliked and abused him, and the boy was forced to leave home with only an old cow for company.

Double Seventh Festival
The Double Seventh Festival, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, is a traditional festival full of romance. It often goes into August in the Gregorian calendar

This festival is in mid-summer when the weather is warm and the grass and trees reveal their luxurious greens. At night when the sky is dotted with stars, and people can see the Milky Way spanning from the north to the south. On each bank of it is a bright star, which see each other from afar. They are the Cowherd and Weaver Maid, and about them there is a beautiful love story passed down from generation to generation.

Long, long ago, there was an honest and kind-hearted fellow named Niu Lang (Cowhand). His parents died when he was a child. Later he was driven out of his home by his sister-in-law. So he lived by himself herding cattle and farming. One day, a fairy from heaven Zhi Nu (Weaver Maid) fell in love with him and came down secretly to earth and married him. The cowhand farmed in the field and the Weaver Maid wove at home. They lived a happy life and gave birth to a boy and a girl. Unfortunately, the God of Heaven soon found out the fact and ordered the Queen Mother of the Western Heavens to bring the Weaver Maid back.

With the help of celestial cattle, the Cowhand flew to heaven with his son and daughter. At the time when he was about to catch up with his wife, the Queen Mother took off one of her gold hairpins and made a stroke. One billowy river appeared in front of the Cowhand. The Cowhand and Weaver Maid were separated on the two banks forever and could only feel their tears. Their loyalty to love touched magpies, so tens of thousands of magpies came to build a bridge for the Cowhand and Weaver Maid to meet each other. The Queen Mother was eventually moved and allowed them to meet each year on the 7th of the 7th lunar month. Hence their meeting date has been called "Qi Xi" (Double Seventh).

Scholars have shown the Double Seventh Festival originated from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD220). Historical documents from the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD371-420) mention the festival, while records from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) depict the grand evening banquet of Emperor Taizong and his concubines. By the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties, special articles for the "Qi Xi" were seen being sold on markets in the capital. The bustling markets demonstrated the significance of the festival.

Today some traditional customs are still observed in rural areas of China, but have been weakened or diluted in urban cities. However, the legend of the Cowhand and Weaver Maid has taken root in the hearts of the people. In recent years, in particular, urban youths have celebrated it as Valentine's Day in China. As a result, owners of flower shops, bars and stores are full of joy as they sell more commodities for love.

Qixi Festival, Chinese Own Valentine's Day

On the evening of the seventh day of the seventh month on the Chinese lunar calendar, don't forget to look carefully at the summer sky. You'll find the Cowherd (a bright star in the constellation Aquila, west of the Milky Way) and the Weaving Maid (the star Vega, east of the Milky Way) appear closer together than at any other time of the year. Chinese believe the stars are lovers who are permitted to meet by the queen of Heaven once a year. That day falls on the double seventh (Qixi in Chinese), which is China's own Valentine's Day.

Most Chinese remember being told a romantic tragedy when they were children on the double seventh. In the legend, the cowherd and the Weaving Maid will meet on a bridge of magpies across the Milky Way once a year. Chinese grannies will remind children that they would not be able to see any magpies on that evening because all the magpies have left to form a bridge in the heavens with their wings.

The double seventh is the only Chinese festival devoted to love in the Lunar calendar.

1. Needlework - In the old days of China, needlework was necessary as part of a girl's dowry. Since the Weaving Maid is also an excellent seamstress, on the double seventh in ancient China, girls would hold weaving and needlework competitions to see who had the best hands and the brightest mind, both prerequisites for making a good wife and mother at that time.

2. Blossoms - The methods of keeping the skin fair and glowing by using blossoms have never been a secret to Chinese girls. On the double seventh, girls would put blossoms into a copper basin of water. The water, which would absorbe the essence of the blossoms, was said to be good to girls' skin when they washed their face.

3. The Maid "Shrine" - Girls would also put up colorful "shrines" made of paper, fresh fruit, flowers, and incense as a tribute to the Weaving Maid and the cowherd. In some parts of Shandong Province (in East China), young women offered fruit and pastries to pray for a bright mind. If spiders were seen weaving webs on sacrificial objects, it was believed the Weaving Maid was giving a positive reply to the prayers.

4. Making Offerings - So many things -- of joy and tears, praise and lament, hope and yearning -- fall on the double seventh. In some areas in China, seven close girlfriends would gather to make dumplings. They put into three separate dumplings a needle, a copper coin, and a red date, which represented perfect needlework skills, good fortune, and an early marriage. But the festival celebrations were not confined to girls. It proved to be a day for all the people, young and old, men and women, to make offerings. It's said if an offering were made for three straight years, the offering, or rather the wish, would come true.

Chinese Valentine’s Day – Qi Xi Festival (七夕节)
Niu Lang and Zhi Nu - talk about star-crossed lovers

In China, the seventh day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar is known as the Qi Xi Festival (七夕节 – qī xì jié). This ancient Chinese festival goes by many names, including: the Night of Sevens, the Magpie Festival, and in the more modern sense of the word,Chinese Valentine’s Day (情人节 – qíng rén jié).

Although this festival has been around for a long, long time, it tends to take a backseat to other more celebrated Chinese festivals, such as National Day and Spring Festival. These days, Chinese love-birds celebrate the Qi Xi Festival in a fashion all-to similar to Valentine’s Day in the West – dinner dates, flowers, and candy.

These days, most young Chinese probably won’t even be able to explain the legend of this holiday, as they are more concerned with celebrating the Western way. Thankfully, the history behind this ancient festival is much more interesting than a Hallmark card and a box of chocolates, and hopefully its traditions are preserved.

This year, the festival falls on August 6th (which just so happens to be a certain blogger’s 26th birthday), and you can bet your bottom dollar that the Hou Hai area of Beijing will be packed full of Chinese couples making out and groping each other in public.

The Double Seventh Festival

The Double Seventh Festival known in China as Chinese Valentine's Day, falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. Also callded "Qi Xi Jie" or "Qi Qiao Jie", it is a traditional festival full of romance and important to ancient ladies, but not as well-known as other traditional festivals. Not so many Chinese people take it as a festival as before but are all familiar with the story behind it.

Long time ago, there was a poor cowherd, Niulang. His parents died and he lived with his elder brother and sister-in-law, who were both mean and treat Niulang badly. They kicked Niulang out of the house and left him old clothes and an old ox.

Niulang built a cottage at the foot of mountain and took good care of that old ox. One day the ox spoke to him and told that it used to be Taurus, a proud star in the night sky but was published due to his violation to law of the Heavenly Palace. The old ox told Niulang some goodness would come to the pond not far away from his cottage for having a bathe; Zhinu was among them, who is daughter of king in Heaven, the kind and the most beautiful; If he could take her clothes away, she would left and become his wife.

Niulang listened to the old ox, and went to the pond at appointed day. When the goddness came and took off their silk ropes then jumped into the water. Niulang found Zhinu's clothes and hide away. Other goddesses witnessed Niulang and dressed up quickly and flew away, only Zhinu left. He had adored her from the first moment he saw her. They looked into each other's eyes. The heavenly girl told the poor cowherd that she would be his wife.

They soon got married lived together in that cottage. Niulang worked hard to grow crops and Zhinv raised silkworms. They lived a simple but happy life, with a little boy and girl Zhinu give birth afterwards.

One day the old ox died and they preserve the its hide according to its words left. At the same time, the king and queen of the heaven found that Zhinu married a man and had babies. The queen flew down to earth with her solders and caught Zhinu away. Niulang came back home and found Zhinu not at home, only the children left. The babies cried and told him where Zhinu was going. Niulang remembered what the old ox told him and placed the twins in wicker baskets on a pole to carry on his shoulder, put on the magic hide, and flew up, up into the sky. The queen noticed that Niulang was following them, she became angry, with wave of her arm, and a raging torrent immediately appeared between her group and Niulang. He could not get past this wide swollen river. Heartbroken, Niulang and his children could only look and weep bitterly. The King in his Heavenly Palace was moved by the sound of their crying, and decided to allow Niulang and Zhinu to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

This sad love story was passed down from ancient times, with little magpies were seen on double seventh day, as most of them fly to Milky River to form a bridge for the annual meeting of Niulang and Zhinu.

In ancient times, the double seventh day was an important festival for young women and young girls. No matter poor or rich, they would put on their best clothes and place an incense burner in the courtyard and lay out some fruit as offerings. Then all the girls in the family would kowtow to Niulang and Zhinu and pray for ingenuity.

But nowadays, these traditional customs were lost and most Chinese young people favored Western Valentine's Day, a great day to express love between lovers.