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Qi Xi Jie: China's Valentine's Day

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Qi Xi Jie: China's Valentine's Day

The Milky Way around 1990.

(Photo by Space Frontiers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar is known as Qi Xi Jie or 七夕节, a traditional holiday that has been recently called China's Valentine's Day.

The 2,000-plus-year-old holiday marks the star-crossed love between a cow herder Niulang and Zhinu, a weaver of clouds and the daughter of the Jade Emperor who is the Daoist ruler of heaven.

In-law Troubles:

The story goes that the the two fell in love and got married, but their bond was met with disapproval by Wangmu, Zhinu's mother and the queen of heaven. Niulang is viewed as the star Altair and Zhinu as the star Vega. With a swift move of her hairpin, She separated the two with a river in the sky, known today as the Milky Way.

But the queen took pity on them and gave them one night of the year to spend together. On Qi Xi Jie, the queen is said to send magpies to bridge the celestial gap between the two star lovers.

Rooted in Astronomy:

The tale seems to be an interpretation of the prominence of the two stars Altair and Vega, which together with Deneb, make up the Western constellation, The Summer Triangle, which is highly visible in the summer in the northern hemisphere.

In an interview with Xinghua, Beijing Normal University folklore professor Xiao Fang said that the rejuvenation of the holiday in China is due to two phenomenons.

"First, it is a natural response to the challenges of Western festivals, such as the Valentine's Day and Christmas. Secondly, people need special occasions to channel their affections so they want such a festival to socialize," Fang told Xinhua.

Modern Interpretations:

Many Chinese view it as another chance to buy gifts for their sweethearts, and the holiday is repeated again on February 14, where Valentine's culture appears to have permeated the earth.

The lovers were once immortalized by Song Dynasty poet Qin Guan. Thanks to Dr. Kylie Hsu from Cal State Los Angeles, here is a translation of that poem Fairy of the Magpie Bridge

A great line from Hsu's translation: "A night of rendezvous, Across the autumn sky. Surpasses joy on earth."

Watch a youtube video of last one Qi Xi Jie celebration here.

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