It’s the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, folks, and that means it’s time for the Qixi (chee shee) festival here in China. Qixi literally means “The Seventh Evening” (some say “Night of Sevens,” but I don’t agree with that translation), a holiday a little bit like the Chinese version of Valentine’s Day in the west. Because it’s a Chinese holiday, though, it’s a lot more sweet and sour than its straight-out sweet American counterpart.
There are many different stories behind the origins of this holiday. Most explanations are pretty much the same, with the exception of a few minor details. In typical businessblog-like fashion, I’ll give you the story in a nutshell (brought to you in only 10 bullet points!).
- There once was a cowherd (Niulang) aptly named “cowherd” who was tipped off by his anthropomorphic ox friend that there were some fairy princesses bathing in a lake.
- Cowherd was like, “Whoa, naked fairy princesses!” He ran over to spy on them, at which point he immediately fell in love with the youngest one—Zhinu, meaning “the Weaving Girl.”
- In typical boy-like fashion, he stole Weaving Girl’s clothes from the side of the lake and hid them… the purpose behind which action needs no explanation here.
- Cowherd was successful: he saw her completely naked when she went out to find her clothes. And because he saw her in her celestial birthday-suit, she had to agree to marry him.
- They got married and were very much in love (in spite of the questionable nature of Cowherd’s method of courtship) until Weaving Girl’s mother, the Goddess of Heaven, found out.
- The Goddess of Heaven, who is the Chinese equivalent of our evil mother-in-law trope, was like, “You didn’t invite me to your wedding—and worse! Cowherd is a lowly human, but my daughter is an astral seamstress who sews clouds together! You two have unequal social statuses and that is inappropriate! I am very angry. I shall spite you in the manner of an angry Chinese mother.”
- Qixi pulled out her hairpin (a woman’s weapon of choice in ancient China) and ripped the sky in half, thus creating the Milky Way.
- Next, she chucked her daughter to one bank of the Milky Way and lobbed her loathsome son-in-law to the other, effectively putting them in everlasting time out, like the naughty little social scalawags they were.
- Once a year, however, all of the magpies in the world, who for some reason take pity on this unlucky couple, fly up to the Milky Way and mash themselves into a bridge, connecting the two sides of the heavenly river.
- This day is Qixi, the Seventh Evening, during which Weaving Girl and Cowherd can finally meet up and presumably do what any other pair of forbidden lovers do on the single day of every year that they’re able to see each other—talk politics!
And that’s that. It’s a lovely story, really, and I’m always touched by the utter selflessness of the magpies who allow themselves to be stomped upon in an annual moment of interspecies altruism. The cynical side of me suspects that it’s not an altogether willing act on their part, and that in his 364 days of downtime every year, Cowherd has managed to devise some sort of intergalactic magpie super-magnet that runs on stardust.
Cynicism aside, though, Happy Qixi Chinese Valentine’s Day, folks. Keep your loved ones near—and make sure to hide your mother-in-law’s stash of sky-ripping hairpins.