Chinese Valentine’s Day, called Qi Xi (七夕) in China, is a traditional holiday celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month on the Chinese calendar. In 2012, it falls on August 23.
Other names for the holiday are Magpie Festival, or Double Sevens. The universal themes of forbidden love and prohibitive desire appear in the Chinese myths associated with Qi Xi. In the Chinese tale, a celestial woman (Zhi Nu, the weaver) and a mortal man (Niu Lang, the cowherder) are star crossed lovers now fated to meet only once a year on a bridge of magpies across the sky.
One version of the legend of the Weaver and the Cowherder:
Niu Lang and Zhi Nu will meet on a bridge of magpies across the Milky Way. 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 legend has been handed down for nearly 2 millennia. The story has been recorded as far back as the Jin Dynasty (256-420 AD). Poets composed hundreds of verses on the love story and many types of Chinese opera tell the story. The Chinese people believe that the star Vega, east of the Milky Way, is Zhi Nu and, at the constellation of Aquila, on the western side of the Milky Way, Niu Lang waits for his wife.
Zhi Nu was said to be the youngest of seven daughters of the Queen of Heaven. With her sisters, she worked hard to weave beautiful clouds in the sky, while Niu Lang was a poor orphan cowherd, driven out of his home by his elder brother and his cruel wife. Niu Lang lamented over his lonely and poor life with an old cow, his only friend and companion. The magical cow kindly told him of a way to find a beautiful and nice woman as his life companion.
Under the direction of the cow, Niu Lang went to the riverside on an evening, where the seven fairies slipped out of their heavenly palace to bathe. He took one of the beautiful silk dresses the fairies had left on the bank. When the fairies left the water, the youngest couldn’t find her clothes and had to see her sisters fly back to heaven without her. Then Niu Lang came out with the dress and asked the youngest fairy, Zhi Nu, to stay with him.
Several years passed on Earth, which were only a few days in heaven. Niu Lang and Zhi Nu lived happily together and had two children before the Queen of Heaven discovered Zhi Nu’s absence. She was so annoyed she had Zhi Nu brought back to heaven. Seeing his beloved wife flying in the sky, Niu Lang was terrified. He caught sight of the cowhide hanging on a wall. The magical cow had told him before dying of old age: “Keep the cowhide for emergency use.”
Putting the cowhide on, he went after his wife with his two children. With the help of the cowhide, Niu Lang was able to follow Zhi Nu into heaven. He was about to reach his wife when the Queen showed up and pulled off her hairpin to draw a line between the two. The line became the Silver River in heaven, or the Milky Way. Zhi Nu went back to the heavenly workshop, going on weaving the clouds. But she was so sad, and missed her husband across the Silver River so much that the clouds she weaved seemed sad. Finally, the Queen showed a little mercy, allowing the couple to meet once every year on the Silver River.
Unlike St. Valentine’s Day in Western countries there is not so much emphasis on giving chocolates, flowers and kisses. Instead, Chinese girls prepare fruits, melons and incense as offerings to Zhi Nu, the weaving maiden, praying to acquire high skills in needlecraft, as well as hoping to find satisfactory husbands. In the evening, people sit outdoors to observe the stars. Chinese grannies would say that, if you stand under a grapevine, you can probably overhear what Zhi Nu and Niu Lang are talking about.
More info on Chinese Valentine’s Day 2010