Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Qixi Festival

The Qixi festival, also known as the Magpie festival, and the Double Seventh festival, is held on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. 

This is a romantic festival, and over the last decade or two, with the increase in westernization, it has been compared to valentine's day, and can be known as the Chinese Valentine's day.

The legend behind the festival tells of the love between a cowherd (Niulang) and a weaving maid (Zhi Nu), who meet once a year at the magpie bridge.

Cowherd and Weaver Maid
Photo Credit: Marjie Kennedy
It is said that nearly two thousand years ago, a cowherd  falls in love with a fairy maiden. Their love violates the heavenly rules, and the gods forbid the fairy maiden to come down the earth and see the cowherd again. Magpies are touched by their love and sorrow, therefore once a year, magpies will fly from earth to heaven and build a bridge of many magpies to give the two lovers a chance to see each other.

These days, during the Qixi festival, girls send lanterns into water or in the air with a wish for love, marriage or a child. It is also a very popular date to register for an official marriage license.

Photo Credit: Joanne Wan
Traditionally, this is also the festival to plead for skills - girls plead for intelligent minds, skilled hands, and a good marriage. 

In some areas of China, girls still demonstrate melon carving or participate in melon carving competitions, as well as demonstrating their embroidery skills. .

Melon Carving
Photo Credit: Marylyn Jeans
There are many folk customs associated with the festival, though they were practiced more in the past:
  • Setting up an incense altar to the weaving maiden, with offerings of fruit, flowers, tea, makeup, embroidery.
  • Pleading for skills by threading a needle (some needles have 7 holes!) in the moonlight to be granted a wish by the weaver maiden.
  • Doing an ingenuity test by floating a needle: throwing a needle into a bowl of water, and if it floats, then it is a declaration that the girl will receive needle craft skills.
  • Catching dew with a basin. It is said that dew are the tears of the couple, and will make one dexterous if rubbed in eyes and hands.
  • Putting a spider in a box to see if there is a cobweb the next day. The one with the most round cobweb wins.
  • Serving dumplings with 3 special ones: one with copper coin (for blessings), one with needle (for deft hands), and one with a red date (for early marriage) ** Placing a needle in food seems awfully dangerous, though, doesn't it?

And commonly eaten foods are dumplings, noodles, wontons, and Qiao guo (fried thin paste).

The Qixi festival was yesterday, August 13 (this year), but with Elle away and only returning tonight, we will be celebrating it tomorrow.

To celebrate the Qixi Festival, we'll be reading the myth of the weaver maid and cowherd, finding their stars in the sky, making the treat Qiao Guo, trying the folk custom of threading a needle to plead for skills, and the modern custom of a wish lantern on the water. 

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