Festivals are an integral part of Chinese culture and each celebration is rich in history and tradition. Along with that, all Chinese festivals take place according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar and are often greatly revered. One of the most popular Festivals is the Qixi Festival, which we will extensively discuss in this write-up.
What is Qixi Festival?
Also known as the Qiqiao Festival, this is without a doubt one of the most celebrated and most fascinating Chinese festivals with a history of more than 2,600 years and you get to learn about the Chinese Valentine’s traditions on this day. In addition to that, the Qixi Festival is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day, the Double Seventh Festival, the Magpie Festival, and the Night of the Sevens. The Qixi Festival has its roots in Chinese mythology and it is celebrated according to the Lunar calendar, that is, on the 7th day of the 7th Lunar month.
Generally, the Qixi festival celebrates the yearly meeting of the Niulang (the cowherd) and Zhinu (the weaver girl) in Chinese mythology and the festival was extrapolated from the worship of the natural astrology. According to the Chinese, the festival is the birthday of the 7th elder sister in the traditional significance, and it is identified as the ‘Qixi’ festival because of the worship of the 7th elder sister, which is often held on the 7th night of the 7th Lunar month. This particular festival has greatly inspired the Thất Tịch festival in Vietnam, the Tanabata festival in Japan, and the Chilseok festival in Korea.
When is the Qixi Festival?
As mentioned earlier, the Qixi Festival aka the Chinese Valentine’s Day, falls on the seventh Day of the seventh Chinese Lunisolar calendar. To be more specific, it was on August 14th in 2021, and it will fall on the 4th of August in 2022, the 22nd of August in 2023, the 10th of August in 2024, and on the 29th of August in 2025. There is no public holiday on this day but it is observed in a similar fashion to Valentine’s Day in the west. During this festival, marriage proposals, romantic gestures, and multiple confessions of love are seen in full force. On this day, couples simply take the time to celebrate their love.
Qixi Festival History
The Qixi Festival is one of the ancient traditional Chinese Festivals that have been celebrated since the Han Dynasty, which existed between 206 BC and 220 AD. In ancient pre-historic times, say about 1.7 million years ago, the Chinese worshipped the stars. Niulang, the Chinese deity who identified as the star Altair, and Zhinu, the star Vega in Chinese mythology, were on different sides of the Milky Way when they happened to catch eyes. They would meet once a year, and their reunification day was worshipped as the special day, which is the Seventh Day Festival.
In the Han Dynasty, Zhinu was considered a skilled weaver girl who often weaved clouds. She was also seen as the patroness of young females and small children. Because of her venerated status in ancient China, young girls would come out and pray on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, which was considered Zhinu’s birthday. Also, it is on this day that she fell in love with the cowherd, hence the celebration of love.
During the Song Dynasty, between 960 and 1279 AD, the custom of praying for creativity and innovation on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month became a popular tradition. There were multiple specialized markets where stuff for the praying ceremony was sold in the capital. The celebrations were then held in unison.
In 2015, the Double Seventh Festival/the Qixi Festival was added to the list of the National Intangible Cultural Heritage by the country’s State Council. Unfortunately, most of the traditional customs are disappearing as the years go by, but people still find ways of celebrating love.
Qixi Festival Story
According to Chinese mythology, the Qixi Festival is a commemoration of the love story between Zhinu, the weaver girl who symbolized Vega, and Niulang, the cowherd who symbolized Altair. Niulang, the cowherd, was an orphan who lived with his sister-in law and his younger brother. Unfortunately, his sister-in-law abused him often and eventually kicked him out of his house. She gave him an old cow and Niulang had nothing else to do but to be grateful for his new companion- the cow.
One day, the old cow spoke out and told Niuland that a fairy will come to him and that the fairy would be a skilled heavenly weaver. The old cow also told him that the fairy will stay on earth with him if she fails to go back to heaven (her home) before the next morning. This eventually came to pass, and when Niulang saw Zhinu, the beautiful fairy, he fell in love with her immediately. The love between them was reciprocal and they got married.
When the emperor of heaven (the Jade Emperor) found about their marriage, he was very furious about it because it was a blasphemous act. He immediately sent minions to search for Zhinu and bring her back to heaven. When she was taken away, Niulang was greatly heartbroken and started chasing after the minions. When he got closer to them and was about to rescue the love of his life, the Queen Mother of the West dew the Milky Way (a Silver River) in the sky and completely blocked Niulang from accessing the minions.
Even so, the love between the skillful weaver and the cowherd moved the magpie, and the two built a bridge of magpies over the Silver River so that they can meet whenever possible. The Emperor of Heaven and the Queen Mother of the West were completely moved by the sight of the brige and they allowed the couple to meet once every year on the 7th day of the seventh Lunar month at the Magpie Bridge, and that was the origin of the popular Qixi Festival.
How is Qixi Festival Celebrated?
The Qixi Festival, also known as the Double Seven Festival, is considered the most romantic and lovely celebrations out of all traditional Chinese Festivals. Since the globalization of China, it is known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day and on this day, the aura is filled with all kinds of romantic gestures, flowers, and celebrations of love. Previously, there were traditions such as worshiping the moon and appreciating the starts, worshipping of the weaver girl and the Qiniangma goddess, worshipping the Kiuxing star and sowing seeds to wish for a baby, among others.
Nowadays, the traditions seem to be fading away as most people choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving presents such as flowers, jewelry, chocolate, wine, and other gifts in place of the traditional customs. Even so, the romantic legend of the cowherd (Niulang) and Zhinu (the weaver girl) is valued by most couples and young people.
Qixi Festival Traditions
Some of the most popular traditions that you will come across during the Qixi Festival are;
Worship the Moon and Appreciate Stars
On the evening of the 7th day of the 7th Lunar month, young girls and females would take a sacred bath with water and sap, wear new and aesthetic clothes, and worship the moon. They believed that the moon was the auspicious sign for women and when they were done worshipping the moon, they would appreciate Altair and Vega getting together, as a symbol of the reunion between Niulang and Zhinu.
Handy Girl Competition
Some of the handy girl traditions were the needle threading competition where women would thread colorful thread into 7-holed needs and the fastest one was the most skillful weaver, the spiderweb predictions where every girl had to place a small spider in a box as they wait to see the most round and dense web, and the sewing needle predictions to determine the most handy girl among the competitors.
Worship the Weaver Girl
The ceremony is often done under moonlight, where the girls set a table in somebody’s home with various sacrifices such as nuts, wine, melon seeds, etc. They would put flowers in a bottle covered with paper as they burn incense and perform a sacred bath before worship. After worship they would dine and make merry.
Worship Qiniangma Goddess
Because it was her birthday, the Chinese would gather in groups to worship the Qiniangma goddess with fruits, flowers, and gifts. When children reach the age of 15, parents would also go to the Qiniang temple and thank the goddess for the safety and health of their children.
Worship Kuixing Star
The birthday of the Kuixing Star was on this day. So, scholars who wanted good grades in their examinations had to worship the star on this day.
Sowing Seeds to Wish for a Baby
Here, anyone who wishes to give birth needed to sow seeds on a small wooden board with a layer of soil a few days before the festival. When the seedlings sprout, they look like a small village, and signifies good luck.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who was sympathetic towards Niulang and Zhinu, so she would make some delicious pastries (Qiaoguo) and prayed that the two would reunite. The Jade emperor was impressed and asked a matchmaker to find her a soulmate. So, most young girls would make and east qiaoguo during the Qixi festival with hope for a lifetime partner.
To do this, girls put on new clothes, out mung beans in a basin filled with water to hasten the sprouting process, and make colorful items. They burn candles and bow to the stars as well to welcome the fairies.
Swim in the River Where the Seven Fairies Bathed
The Chinese believe that on this day 7 fairies come to earth and bathe in the rivers. Supposedly, the rivers are magical, prevent diseases and bring good luck as it is holy and clean during the Qixi festival.
Store Qixi Water
In Guangdong province, each family fetches water from the river or a well in the morning. Supposedly, the water is magical and is used to treat burns and remove sores.
Celebrate the Cows
Children pick wild flowers and hang them on the horns of cows as a way of commemorating the sacrifice of the old cow, when he gave his skin to Niulang to cross the Milky Way and visit his bride.
Worship the Bed God
This is mostly done in Taiwan, and people worship the Bed God so that he can protect their children as they grow up.
Using special flowers known as impatiens balsamina that has a red color, the Chinese in southwestern part of China, dye their nails as a beautification element for the festival.
They wash their hair in water which leaves has been soaked. By being clean, they can potentially find their soulmate.
Airing Out Clothes and Books
By doing this, they show off their wealth and knowledge, and they show as much gratitude and respect to the sun during the festival.
Make a Qiaogu Scarecrow
This is a paper cutting competition that determines the most skillful woman in Shaanxi.
Consecrate Mohele, the Qixi Mascot
The doll is dedicated to the moon. It is mostly a historical figure from the Song Dynasty.
Tie the Hair with Red Rope
This keeps children healthy and prolongs their life.
Qixi Festival Foods
Some of the popular Qixi festival foods are: Qiaoguo, sugar shaped like women, nuts (hazelnuts, melon seeds, peanuts, red dates, and longans), dumplings, chicken, sprouts and cloud noodles, fried bean tea, glutinous rice sticks, and patterned melons.
Qixi Festival vs. Valentine’s Day
Unlike the Westernized Valentine’s Day that is celebrated on the 14th of February, the Chinese Qixi Festival is celebrated on the seventh day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. Aside from that, the Qixi festival is based on a Chinese myth of bitter sweet love, whereas the west-based Valentine’s Day is a feast day honoring two Christian martyr’s but has been popularized as a day of celebrating love.
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