Chinese Valentine Day is that day of the year which correspomds to February 14 in the Western World. This year, the feast day falls on August 19. Couples and even single people will throng to "Matchmaker Temples" to pray for love and marriage, and children. Qi Qiao Jie, the "seventh night of the sventh moon", also known as The Seventh Eve.
There are several stories associated with this night, and all of them are in some way connected with love, and specifically two lovers, although one will find variations on the theme. One element that crops up again and again, however, is that magpies float in the air wing-tip to win-tip, in order to make a bridge (Queqiao) for the heroine of the story, so that she can cross the sky to meet her husband.
One of the stories tells how, when in the Chinese lunar calendar, it was the seventh day of the seventh month, Earth was visited by the seven daughters of the Goddess of Heaven, and while they were here they decided to have a swim in the Silver River.
Living on Earth, at the time, was an orphaned cowherd. He resided for a time in the house of his elder brother and his wife, because his parents had died when he was still a toddler. But these were stingy people; in the end, they drove him out of the house with only an ox to his name. He was an industrious lad, and so after a time he had earned enough money to buy himself a tiny farm, and a house.
Some versions of the story tell us that he built himself a tiny cottage on the side of the mountain, and subsisted on the money he earned from selling the vegetables he grew in his kitchen garden.
Then one day, a sort of miracle happened. The ox talked. It said that it used to be Taurus, the most wonderful star in the sky. Having committed the terrible crime of giving cereal grains to Man, it had been punished and sent to earth as an ordinary ox.
The ox knew that Niu Lang the cowherd was lonely; so he told the cowherd that if he went to the banks of the river, he would find himself a wife.
And here the stories are different again. Some say that he fell instantly in love with the youngest one, and so he stole her fairy clothes so that she could not return to heaven. Others say that he stole the clothes of all the sisters, and they made the youngest one beg him for them - and this was the condition that had to be satisfied, i.e. that he sees her without clothes, so that they would have to marry. Because the man was not a god, they could not live in heaven, and she settled down with him in his abode.
In heaven, it had been the job of Zhi Nu, to weave rainbows and clouds to give pleasure to the people on Earth and she was therefore known as the Weaver Maid, or Girl Weaver. So on earth, she continued with her hobby-cum-job and raised silkworms. With the silk she made the most superb and delicate satins and silks. The couple had twins, a boy, Gold, and a girl, Jade.
The Jade Emperor was livid. The Goddess of Heaven wanted her daughter back. He punished them after some time by making them live in opposite sides of the heavens. To this day, if there is rainfall on this special night, the Chinese women express grief for the "elder sister, crying again" because they consider the raindrops to be her tears.
The story tells us that one day, when Niu Lang came back from his toil, the twins were sitting on the ground, weeping. They had a sad tale to tell; an old lady had come and kidnapped their mother. At this point, he remembered that the ox had told him his hide would give him wings. So he put the children in his panniers, hanging on either side of the yoke that had been used by the ox, and flew towards Heaven to try and bring his beloved wife back.
But the children were still upset, and so the Heavenly Queen heard them; in this version, she wished for a river to be created to make his undertaking impossible, and so it was. After some time, she was sorry for what she had done, and decreed that there would be one day in the year when the couple could meet again.
There is another story which is not as complicated, about this couple. It says that Niu Lang and Zhi Nu were both fairies, and somehow, they had fallen in love. Unfortunately, they lived on the opposite edges of the Milky Way. They became love-sick, and started neglecting their duties. So the Jade Emperor decreed that they could meet just once a year - on the Double Seven.
Qi Qiao Jie is also known as "The Begging Festival" or "The Daughter's Festival". It is traditional to stare up at Vega, "The Weaver", which is at the Eastern side of the Milky Way. Then the gaze shifts to Altair, "The Cowherd", which is in the constellation Aquila, on the west side of the Milky Way. Alshain and Tarazed, are the Twins.
Nowadays, people in love like to go to the Matchmaker Temple. Single girls pray to the Weaving Maid star to find them a good, kind husband. When they espy Vega , they balance a needle on a bowl of water. If the meniscus does not break, the girl will find her lover within the year.
Another custom connected with this festival are decorating an ox's horns with flowers. Coins are tied with a red thread and hung around the neck of children under sixteen years of age, as a protective talisman. All this is done in the tradition of Chiniangma ("Seven Mothers").
It is the done thing for women to wash their hair on the eve of this festival. Therefore it will be nice and fresh-smelling on the day. Children collect dew overnight in special containers, and they wash their face in the morning to be clean and beautiful in their body and soul. Young ladies throw the five-colour ropes, kept over from the Chinese Dragon Boat festival, on the roofs of the house. The magpies cal use them to rest on, when they make the bridge, if they get tired.
Qi Qiao Jie, or the seventh eve, is the best time of the year to pray to Chusheng Niangniang, the Goddess of Birth, to make a woman pregnant. Single women prepare melons and other fruit before worship rites, since this helps them make a good marriage.