Yes, there is Valentine’s Day in China Too
Valentine’s Day, the one day set aside to demonstrate how much we care for each other has become a universal holiday. Even in China, there is a Valentine’s Day, however, this modern incarnation of the romantic holiday has roots that extend back thousands of years.
In China, Valentine’s Day is called, Doubled Seventh Festival, or Qixi Festival. Instead of February, Qixi Festival is celebrated every year on the 7th day of the Chinese lunar month, which in 2018 was August 17.
As far as we know, Qixi Festival began 2,000 years ago, during the Han Dynasty. Its origins are in an ancient legend about a girl who was a weaver and a herder of oxen.
The name of the ox herder was Niulang. He had a special ox who was originally a cattle god. With assistance from his ox, Niulang was able to marry a beautiful fairy whose name was Zhinu, or Vega. She became a weaver.
Zhinu’s mother was a goddess and not in favor of the match. She descended to earth and took Zhinu back to Heaven. But, Niulang did not give up and he continued to pursue Zhinu with the help of his ox.
Zhinu’s mother created a river of stars to keep them separate. Some say this river is the Milky Way. Ultimately, magpies were given permission to build a bridge and once a year, Zhinu and Niulang are allowed to see each other.
Qixi Festival became an annual celebration to reflect this once-a-year encounter between the star-crossed lovers, Zhinu and Niulang.
Traditionally, in the evening of the Festival, girls would go out to show off their dexterity skills. Carving and needlecrafts were the two main challenges in which they would compete. For instance, threading a needle in the moonlight was one popular event. Since Zhinu was a beautiful weaver, there is considerable focus on this talent and young women would show off their weaving skills.
Another way to compete in dexterity was by carving. Women would carve birds, animals, and exotic flowers out of the peels of melons and other material. On a culinary track, young women would make thin pastries that were filled with different fruits and then fried.
Following the dexterity competitions, the young women would display their creations on a table laden with nuts, fruits, and teas. They would pray to find a suitable husband and to have a happy life. Their prayers were directed upward, toward the Vega star.
They would take turns reading poetry and would play games until midnight. In honor of the ox, children would make wreaths of flowers to be hung around the necks of oxen
Qixi Festival Became Westernized
Today, Qixi Festival is celebrated similarly to Valentine’s Day all over the world. The ancient customs have for the most part been discarded. However, you can still see the original way Qixi Festival is celebrated by visiting China’s rural communities.
In the major cities, the emphasis is on going out to romantic dinners or other dates. Flowers, chocolates, and gifts are shared between couples.
However, the legend of Niulang and Zhinu has not been forgotten and it is passed down through the generations. Even though externally the celebrations have become western and modern, the original legend lives on in the hearts of the Chinese.