Love is in the air again as people in Taiwan gear up for Qixi Festival, also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day. In the West, Valentine’s Day falls on February 14 of each year. However, in Chinese culture, Qixi Festival is held on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. This year, the date lands on August 16.
Strolling around Taipei, you can be forgiven to think that it’s February 14 all over again. Hues of bright pink and red splatter across the malls. Love hearts adorn every product in shop windows, ranging from chocolates and jeweleries, to t-shirts and bicycles.
I asked a few couples on the street where Qixi originated from. Sadly, none of them can recall the full story. One young girl actually said, “It doesn’t really matter where it comes from, it’s good to receive and give gifts.”
After some much research, I realized that Chinese Valentine’s Day was far from being a materialistic day of just chocolates and flowers.
Qixi in Chinese literally means “Seventh Night.” It’s derived from a traditional folklore that makes the story of Romeo and Juliet seem rather less tragic. In a nutshell, the story begins with a lonely cowherd named Niulang who comes across seven immortal fairy sisters bathing in a lake.
Niulang falls in love with the youngest fairy named Zhinu, a weaver girl. The two lovers get married, have two children and live happily on earth. Everything was going well until the Goddess of Heaven found out about the forbidden relationship between a mortal and a fairy. She pulled Zhinu into the skies and even Niulang’s efforts to reach Zhinu was no use as the Goddess divided the sky with a river.
Zhinu lived on one side of the river crafting embroidery, while Niulang lived on the other side taking care of their two sons. Nevertheless, each year magpies will fly to the sky to form a bridge across the river so that Zhinu and Niulang can be together for a night.
This romantic story coincides with the night sky. Niulang is the star Altair and Zhinu is the star Vega. The river separating the lovers is the Milky Way and the magpies are the cluster of stars seen in the Cygnus constellation. On the seventh night of the seventh lunar month, the stars Altair and Vega appear to be moving closer to each other. Light drizzle is also common that night, which are the tears of the two lovers.
Traditional practices to celebrate Qixi is still very much alive. If you move away from the bright lights of malls to the vibrant temples, you will see many couples praying that day. There are actually specific Lovers’ Temples where couples can ask the Gods to bless their relationship and ask for eternal happiness. The most popular Lovers’ Temples are Longshan Temple, Zhao Ming Jing Temple and Xia Hai Cheng Huang Temple.
Other traditional activities include females holding weaving competitions, offering food and makeup to Zhinu and even making dumplings. Unfortunately, these traditions are scarcely practiced nowadays.
Whether you would be celebrating Qixi alone or with a significant other, look up to the skies that night and hopefully witness something that happens once a year.