What is China's Qixi Festival?

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Chinese culture has a couple of Valentine's day equivalents, and 七夕 Qixi is one of them, held on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunisolar calendar which is today, August 16 in solar year 2010. It is also celebrated by various other Asian cultures who were influenced by Chinese history one way or another.

The short version of the legend behind Qixi is that the weaver goddess 織女 Zhinü [= the star Vega] fell in love with an earthly cowherd 牛郎 Niulang [= the star Altair]. Her goddess mother 西王母 Xiwangmu and father 玉皇 Yuhuang (the Jade Emperor) were unhappy about their relationship and created the Milky Way to flow across the sky between them. But once a year, on this day, they allow the two to cross the Milky Way river with a bridge formed by magpies; hence, it is regarded day for lovers. Legend has it that the two will cry and it is supposed to rain on this day.

There are variations of this story that differ regionally, but the basic idea is the same.

On Qixi, lovers celebrate, and singles pray to find partners. Its modern-day traditions for young people are a lot like Valentine's Day in the west. For the extremely traditional folks, it's also a good day to pray to 月下老人 Yuexialaoren (the "old man under the moon") regarded as a traditional legendary figure or god of matchmaking.

Chinese tradition has more than one day for lovers. 元宵 Yuanxiao or often known as the Lantern Festival in the west, which happens on the 15th day of the 1st month, is another lover's day in traditional Chinese culture. Part of the reason Yuanxiao a lover's day in ancient times was due to the fact that emperors would lift the curfew on Yuanxiao so people could dance the night away. In modern times, however, Qixi remains the most prominent "Valentine's Day" equivalent.

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