Chinese Valentine’s Day, or the Qixi Festival, is on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar and celebrates the annual meeting of the mythological Niulang (meaning “cowherd”) and Zhinü (meaning “Weaver Girl”). Just as the name suggests, the festival celebrates love, romantic and platonic.
There is a beautiful legend surrounding this story of a pair of “star-struck” lovers. Niulang was an orphan and lived with his brother and his sister-in-law, who was very cruel to him. Eventually, Niulang’s sister-in-law kicked him out of the house, and Niulang left with only a very old cow. The youngest daughter of the Jade Emperor, Zhinü, enjoyed observing the lives of mortals on Earth from high above in the heavens. Watching the mortals, she grew tired of her immortal life and secretly descended into the mortal world. On Earth, she met Niulang, a lone cowherd, and the pair fell in deep love with each other.
Moonstruck, they married. Zhinü brought down from the heavens the art of silk weaving and shared it with everyone. The couple lived a simple life together and had a son and a daughter, yet good things don’t last. The Jade Emperor discovered this and sent down his wife, the Queen Mother, to retrieve Zhinü.
The happily-married couple was torn apart, and Zhinü was brought back to the heavens. At the same time, Niulang’s old cow was on the brink of death, and before dying, he told Niulang to use his skin to make shoes, which will allow him to fly up to the heavens to see Zhinü. With these shoes, Niulang took his children and flew up into the sky. The Queen Mother was enraged and divided Niulang and Zhinü by creating a tumbling river in the sky, which we see in the sky as the Milky Way. The lone Zhinü and Niulang looked at each other from the banks of the river, crying. Their strong and true love moved the magpies, and the flock formed a bridge over the river. The Queen Mother had no choice and allowed the pair to meet every year on the seventh day of the seventh month.
So every year, people would gather with food and snacks to stargaze at the Zhinü star (Vega) and the Niulang star (Altair) in the sky. Some common foods during this holiday are sweet pastries, confectionaries, candies, and fruits. In some places, people would build a four-meter-long bridge with incense sticks and decorate them with flowers, like the bridge in the legend. Watching the bridge burn in the dark night, they would wish for love and happiness in life.
By Victoria Ma, 2022-2023 Student Docent Cultural Ambassador