Happy Chinese Valentines Day! Well, tomorrow, August 16, according to the lunar calendar and Chinese tradition is Chinese Valentine’s Day.
I mentioned I have two wedding anniversaries – one for the civil ceremony and one for the reception. My memory was betraying me, as it often does. There is a third wedding anniversary for me and Mrs. Stevo: Qi Xi – Chinese Valentines Day.
We were married on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, aka 7-7, aka Chinese Valentines Day (one of three, I believe), aka The Night of Sevens. It wasn’t planned. Our marriage was supposed to take place two or three days earlier, but I went to the wrong station, missed my train, and did not end up meeting the future Mrs. Stevo at the appointed time. We met, in her province, a few days later.
On the way to the station that fateful day in 2006, Mrs. Stevo mentioned it was 7-7. My knowledge of the lunar calendar was, and still is, limited. Lunar means moon, doesn’t it? My understanding of this time system is that it wreaks havoc with holidays: Each year they are on a different day.
“It’s Chinese Valentines Day?” I asked.
“Yes, 7-7,” replied my almost-bride.
Some romantic chord resounded deep within me. We had to be married that day, The Fates were smiling blessings upon us. It was fortuitous; it was good luck, utter serendipity. I jogged through the station, Mrs. Stevo trailing in my determined wake. In the pitfalls that followed, a late train, less-than-knowledgeable taxi drivers, and the summer heat that threatened to melt an unconditioned North American, I kept my eye on that prize. To be married on 7-7…
At the registry office, we said our vows, waited for the notarized “pink” wedding books, and then set off in search of a reasonably priced hotel.
“What is 7-7?” you wonder. What is Chinese Valentines Day? I’m glad you asked. Allow me to share…
Please note: There are many variations of this tale. I have combined some elements to make it comprehensible.
Once upon a time, there was a cowherder, named Nuilang (translated: Cowherder). He was a handsome orphaned lad that worked hard as a farmer. One day he spotted seven fairy sisters skinny-dipping in a lake. On the urgings of his mischievous ox, he stole their clothes and sat back to watch the show that would inevitably follow. The sisters selected the youngest and most beautiful among them, the seventh sister, Zhinu (translated: weaver girl), to retrieve their fairy garments.
Aside: The ox was an immortal from heaven, sent to earth in the form of an ox as punishment for his misdeeds in the heavenly realm.
Zhinu retrieved the clothing for her siblings and had Nuilang agree to marry her, as he has seen her unclothed.* The couple got along well, him a dutiful husband, and she a wonderful wife. They fell very much in love and had two children.
Zhinu’s mother, the Empress of Heaven, heard her daughter, the weaver of colorful clouds, had married a mortal. She was furious, as mothers sometimes are about what they perceive to be bad marriages.
She snatched Zhinu from the earth and placed her back the heavens to resume her weaving. Niulang packed the kids in wicker baskets, and using the magically hide of his now dead, and formerly god-like ox, and gave chase. The Empress, using her hairpin, tore a river across the night sky (the milky way), separating the lovers forever.
Zhinu lives on the star Vega, and Nuilang on the other side of the night sky, lives on Altair, flanked by their children on the stars β and γ Aquilae.
In time, the Empress of Heaven was touched by their great love and took pity upon the couple. Once a year, the seventh night of the seventh month, she allowed all the world’s magpies to fly into the heavens. They formed a bridge over the river and allowed the lovers to reunite.
Qi Xi is also called The Festival to Plead for Skills (qǐ qiǎo jié), The Seventh Sister’s Birthday (qī jiě dàn), and The Night of Skills (qiǎo xī).
The Night of Sevens, Chinese Valentines Day, is celebrated by:
On Qi Xi, a festoon is placed in the yard and the single or newly married women in the household make an offering to Niulang and Zhinü consisting of fruit, flowers, tea, and facial powder (makeup). After finishing the offering, half of the facial powder is thrown on the roof and the other half divided among the young women. It is believed by doing this the women are bound in beauty with Zhinü.
Another tradition is for young girls to throw a sewing needle into a bowl full of water on the night of Qi Xi, Chinese Valentines Day, as a test of embroidery skills. If the needle floats on top of the water instead of sinking, it is believed to be an indication of the girl’s being a skilled embroiderer.
Today, Chinese Valentines Day is one of matchmaking by parents and at speed dating parties. Astronomically, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, the milky way appears dimmer, supporting the idea of a bridge between the two stars.
Happy Qi Xi, Mrs. Stevo, happy anniversary (again).
* Mrs. Stevo tells me in traditional China that if a boy saw a girl’s naked feet (Mrs. Stevo’s term) they had to wed. I asked if desperate girls attempted this as a way of coercing men into marriage. She would not dignify my question with an answer.