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Chinese Valentine's Day

In Chinese tradition, there is no day devoted to chocolates and cards, but there is a traditional day devoted to love that is celebrated.  It is called the “Daughter’s Festival” or sometimes is referred to as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. On this day in China, people in love go to the temple of the Matchmaker and pray for their love and possible marriage.

While there is more than one version to this traditional legend, both involve the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar. For 2009, this falls on August 26th.

The most popular version of the legend is one in which the seven daughters of the Goddess of  Heaven  came to earth  and the youngest and most beautiful one caught the eye of a cowherder.  An ox that the cowherder tended was really an immortal from heaven trapped on earth as a punishment.  This magical ox had just granted the cowherder his wish to marry a beautiful woman.   The seven daughters of the Goddess of Heaven had flown to earth and were bathing in a river. Niu Lang, the cowherder, saw them and decided to tease them by running off with their clothing.  The youngest and prettiest daughter was chosen to ask him to return their clothing. 

Since Niu Lang, the handsome cowherder, had seen the seventh daughter, Zhi Nu without clothes, custom declared they had to be married.  The couple lived in glorious bliss for several years and had two children.  Eventually though, the Goddess of Heaven became agitated with Zhi Nu’s absence, as she had the best skill in weaving beautiful clouds and rainbows and ordered her to be retrieved separating the happy couple. Later on, the Goddess of Heaven took pity on the couple and began to allow them to see each other once per year, which occurs on the seventh night of the seventh moon.  Legend has it that to connect this couple who reside on different constellations on opposite sides of the sky, magpie birds form a bridge with their wings.  Once per year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, Zhi Nu, the daughter of the Goddess of Heaven, is allowed to cross over and meet her husband.

So, today star watchers celebrate this holiday by looking up at the star Vega (east of the Milky Way), which represents Zhi Nu, and at the start  Aquila, (on the west side of the Milky Way) where Niu Lang waits for his beloved wife.

While there is not the typical gift giving associated with this holiday, as is the Western Valentine’s Day, there are several customs related to this story of love.  One is that girls throw ropes on the roof for the magpie birds to pick up and carry ropes to the sky to build the bridge for the lovers to be united on the seventh day of the seventh month. On the night of Valentines’ Day, women wash their hair to give it a fresh and shiny look.  Long ago Chinese girls would train themselves to have a good handcrafting skill like the Weaving Maid, and felt the skill was essential for their future family.

Tradition says it is hard to find a magpie on this day because all magpies fly to make the bridge for the Weaving Maid and the Cowherder. It is also believed that if it rains on this special night, it is really the tears of the Weaving Maid and Cowherder spilling down on earth.  According to custom, children should wash their faces in the morning of Valentine’s Day with overnight water from their backyard in order to have a most beautiful appearance. Regardless of how it is celebrated in a particular locale, there is certainly a day to celebrate passionate love in Asian tradition.
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