Chinese Valentine’s Day: 七夕节 Qīxì Jié

The Chinese Valentine’s Day 七夕节 Qīxì jié ( Double-Seventh Festival), also known as the Qixi Festival or Magpie Festival, happens every year on the 7th day of the 7th month in the Chinese lunar calendar.

七夕: The literal meaning is “Evening of Sevens.”

It originated from the mythical story of “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl,” a romantic tale of Zhīnǚ (织女 the weaver girl) and Niulang (牛郎 the Cowherd. Cowherd is a person that tends to grazing cattle.)
This tale is over 2600 years old and dates back to the Han dynasty.

Mythology

Chinese Valentines Day: Cowherd and the Weaver Girl

The tale of the Cowherd boy and the Weaver girl originated from people worshipping natural celestial phenomena.

Vega, the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra in the north, represents Zhinü, the weaver girl. Altair, the brightest star in the constellation of Aquila, represents Niulang the Cowherd.

Niulang was an orphan, and he lived with his brother and sister-in-law. One day they kicked him out of the house with nothing but an old cow.

The old cow told the Cowherd (yes, it could talk for some reason) that a fairy heavenly weaver girl will come to Earth soon. However, if she remains on Earth when morning comes, she will never be able to return to heaven. As soon as Cowherd saw the heavenly weaver girl they fell in love, and she decided to forgo her place in heaven and stay on Earth with her new man.

Her father, the jade emperor (玉皇大帝 Yùhuángdàdì), and emperor of heaven found out about them and sent some minions to escort her back to heaven. Niulang was heartbroken and tried to chase after her.

However, the Queen Mother of the West 西王母 Xīwángmǔ drew a silver river in the sky (the Milky Way) to block Niulang’s path.

Niulang’s and Zhinü’s love for each other was so strong that magpies built a bridge for them over the Milky Way to meet each other.

This sight also moved the Jade Emporer. He allowed them to meet on the magpie bridge once every year on the 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar.

This bittersweet story personifies the two bright stars within the milky way Vega and Altair, which appear closest to each other at this time of year.

Food for Chinese Valentine’s Day

One of the favorite foods served is Qiao Guo, a fried thin pastry dish known as Qiqiao Guozi (fruit) or Qiaobing (cake). The three main ingredients are oil, flour, and sugar.

In some regions, seven friends will gather to make dumplings. In one of the dumplings, they will hide a copper coin and in another a red piece of paper with a date on it. The belief is whoever gets the dumpling with the coin will be wealthy, and the one with the red paper will get married soon.

Fruit is one of the most commonly used foods during Qixi Festival. Sometimes the women will carve the fruit into shapes of flowers, animals, and birds.

Another Qixi Festival tradition is to send flowers and chocolates to your special someone.

Chinese Valentine's Day, Chinese Valentine’s Day: 七夕节 Qīxì Jié
Chinese Valentine's Day, Chinese Valentine’s Day: 七夕节 Qīxì Jié
Chinese Valentine's Day, Chinese Valentine’s Day: 七夕节 Qīxì Jié

Traditions

One tradition is weaving small crafts with colored paper, grass, and thread. Afterward, the girls participate in a competition to pass a thread through the eyes of seven needles in one single breath.

Another Qixi Festival tradition is that girls will throw a sewing needle into a bowl full of water. If the needle floats instead of sinking, it means that the woman is proficient in embroidery, traditionally a talent of a good spouse.

Girls also go to local temples where they will pray to Zhinü for wisdom and burn offerings.

The festival also holds importance for newlyweds. They will worship the celestial couple for the last time and bid them farewell. The celebration stands as a symbol for a happy marriage and shows that the new family treasures the woman.

In some places, people might gather and build a four-meter long bridge 花桥 Huā qiáo with big incense sticks and flowers. They will burn the bridge at night to bring happiness.

Phrases and Useful Words for the Chinese Valentine’s Day

七夕快乐!
Qīxì kuàilè!
Happy Chinese Valentine’s Day!

我爱你
Wǒ ài nǐ
I Love you

烛光晚餐
Zhúguāng wǎncān
Candlelight dinner

我们去吃烛光晚餐吧
Wǒmen qù chī zhúguāng wǎncān ba
Let’s go on a candlelight dinner

巧克力
Qiǎokèlì
Chocolate

谢谢你的巧克力
Xièxiè nǐ de qiǎokèlì
Thank you for the chocolates

玫瑰
Méiguī
Rose/Roses

谢谢你的玫瑰
Xièxiè nǐ de méiguī
Thank you for the roses

看电影
Kàn diànyǐng
See a movie

一起看电影吧
Yīqǐ kàn diànyǐng ba
Let’s see a movie together

Artwork

Chinese Valentines Day: Ladies on the 'Night of Sevens'
Ladies on the 'Night of Sevens' : Chinese Valentines Day
Ladies on the 'Night of Sevens' : Chinese Valentines Day

The Ladies on the ‘Night of Sevens’ seeking skills – by Ding Guanpeng, 1748

Chinese Valentines Day: "The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd"

The reunion of “The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd” on the bridge of magpies. Artwork in the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace in Beijing.

Chinese Poems from the Chinese Valentine’s Day

迢迢牵牛星 Far, Far Away, the Cowherd

迢迢牵牛星 Far, Far Away, the Cowherd
迢迢牵牛星, Far, far away, the Cowherd,
皎皎河汉女。 Fair, fair, the Weaving Maid,
纤纤擢素手, Nimbly move her thin white finger,
札札弄机杼。 Click-clack goes her weaving-loom.
终日不成章, All day she weaves, yet her web is still not done.
泣涕零如雨。 And her tears fall like rain.
河汉清且浅, Clean and shallow the Milky Way,
相去复几许? They are not far apart!
盈盈–水间, But the current always brims between.
脉脉不得语。 And, gazing at each other, they cannot speak.

秋夕–杜牧(唐朝) An Autumn Night – Du Mu (from the Tang Dynasty)

银烛秋光冷画屏, A candle flame flickers against a dull painted screen on a cool fall night,
轻罗小扇扑流萤。 She holds a small silk fan to flap away dashing fireflies.
天阶夜色凉如水, Above her hang divine bodies as frigid as deep water,
坐看牵牛织女星。 She sat there watching Altair of Aquila and Vega of Lyra pining for each other in the sky.

鹊桥仙–秦观(宋朝) Immortals at the Magpie Bridge – Qin Guan (from the Song Dynasty)

纤云弄巧, Clouds float like works of art,
飞星传恨, Stars shoot with pain at heart.
银汉迢迢暗渡。 Across the Milky Way, the Cowherd meets the Maid.
金风玉露一相逢, When Autumn’s Golden Wind embraces Dew of Jade,
便胜却人间无数。 All the love scenes on Earth, however many, fade.
柔情似水, Their tender love runs like a stream;
佳期如梦, Their happy date seems but a dream.
忍顾鹤桥归路。 How can they bear a separate homeward way?
两情若是久长时, If love between both sides can last for aye,
又岂在朝朝暮暮。 Why need they stay together night and day?

So now you know all about the Chinese Valentine’s Day, the origin story, and traditions. It’s similar in some ways to Western Valentine’s day – so who will you be treating this year?

Do you want to know more about other Chinese festivals and their traditions? Then head on over to our category with posts about Chinese Culture.

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Chinese Philosophy
11 August , 2021