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The Double Seventh Festival in China
Falling on the seventh day of seventh lunar month, the Double Seventh Festival in China is what Valentine's Day to the western countries. As it is a day of great importance to girls, the event is also called Young Girls' Festival. Because of the beautiful legend about Niu Lang and Zhi Nu, the festival has been endowed with the meaning of great romance.
Legend of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu
As one of the Chinese four folk legends concerning love, the legend of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu features the Double Seventh Festival.
It is said that Niu Lang was a cowboy who had a kind heart even though he was without living parents. Living with his brother and brother-in-law, he was maltreated. One day, after having been driven out of his home, an old man (in fact a supernatural being), guided him to the sick cattle from heaven. With great care from Niu Lang, the cattle recovered. In order to show gratitude to Niu Lang, the cow helped him get acquainted with Zhi Nu - a fairy from the heaven. They fell in love with each other and married to live a happy life with Niu Lang planting in the field while Zhi Nu did weaving at home. They were also magically given a boy and a girl. However, good times didn't last long because Zhi Nu's deeds were known by the king of the heaven who took her back to heaven. With the cow's help, Niu Lang flew to heaven along with his two children as they chased their wife and mother. It was just at that moment before he could reach Zhi Nu that the queen of the heaven created a huge river between them. Tears from the two flowed continuously so that even the queen was moved. As a result, she allowed them to meet only on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month every year.
Therefore, the day that Niu Lang and Zhi Nu meet is the present Double Seventh Festival.
While the customs of this festival varies according to the different regions, the same hope is cherished by all.
The most prevalent custom is that of girls praying to Zhi Nu for skillful hands for sewing. Because Zhi Nu is regarded as a beautiful woman deft at weaving, in the evening of the festival, girls sew some articles to compete with each other and prepare some delicious fruits to worship Zhi Nu in order to be endowed with the masterly sewing skill. Not only hoping for this skill, they also pray to have a sweet love.
In the rural regions, people usually see the meeting of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu as two stars in the sky. At the same time, the old people tell the young about this old love legend. Unfortunately, this is not popular in cities nowadays.
Scholars have shown the Double Seventh Festival originated from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD220). Historical documents from the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD371-420) mention the festival, while records from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) depict the grand evening banquet of Emperor Taizong and his concubines. By the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties, special articles for the "Qi Xi" were seen being sold on markets in the capital. The bustling markets demonstrated the significance of the festival.
Today's Double Seventh Festival
In the Chinese cities, the Western Valentine's Day is more favored than the Double Seventh Festival by young people. They spend the latter as the Valentine's Day. Although some traditional customs have been changed or been lost, the legend of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu is still passed down from generation to generation. Like the presents of Valentine's Day, flowers and chocolates are also the popular ones.
Whatever way the festival is spent, great love is expressed between the young.
Today some traditional customs are still observed in rural areas of China, but have been weakened or diluted in urban cities. However, the legend of the Cowhand and Weaver Maid has taken root in the hearts of the people. In recent years, in particular, urban youths have celebrated it as Valentine's Day in China. As a result, owners of flower shops, bars and stores are full of joy as they sell more commodities for love.