By Urey Chan
Seventh Evening Festival
The 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar is known as Chinese Valentine’s Day or the Seventh Evening Festival (Chinese: “七夕节”, Pinyin: Qī xī jié). For many people, it is a very special day as they use this opportunity to find potential lovers. Nowadays, people will give each other chocolates, roses, or presents nowadays. It is also said to rain around this time of year because two lovers have reunited together on this single night.
Now for the story…
The reason that it rains on this day is based on one of the most well-known Chinese folk legends — “The Cowherd and the Weaving Girl” — (Chinese: 牛郎与织女, Pinyin: Niú láng yǔ Zhī nü).
There are many variations of this folk-tale. This is the following variation that I have heard within my family with some slight modifications.
Once upon a time, there were seven goddesses who lived in heaven. They were all sisters. One night, they took a trip to the mortal world. They wanted to explore over there since it was difficult to obtain permission from the Empress goddess. They decided to bathe together in a lake which was located near a cowherd’s home. The cowherd’s name is Niulang (Chinese: 牛郎, Pinyin: Niú láng).
They laughed and splashed water around. Because of the sounds, the cowherd woke up from his sleep and decided to check what the commotion was about. Once he stepped out into the open area, he saw all of them…and that was when his eyes laid sight on one of the goddesses — Zhinu (Chinese: 织女, Pinyin: Zhī nü). They fell in love immediately and had two children.
The other sisters became worried because it was illegal for a goddess to marry a mortal man. In fact, they did not want the Goddess of Heaven to find out. But, she ended up finding out, ordering Zhinu to return back to heaven to resume her weaving duties.
How does the story conclude?
Niulang was very sad and upset. What would life be without Zhinu? Seeing this, his ox started to speak and tell him that if Niulang would kill the ox and put on the hide, he will be able to travel to heaven see Zhinu. Crying, the cowherd killed the ox and put on the hide and also carried his two children to find Zhinu.
This made the Goddess of Heaven furious and created a large river to separate them as far as possible. However, the cowherd did not give up. Together with Zhinu’s six other sisters, it took a very long time until the Goddess of Heaven made the decision to allow Niulang to see Zhinu on a single night in the 7th day of July each year. In preparation for this event, magpies form a bridge for them to see each other. Once they reunite, it starts to rain because both lovers and the magpies are sad.
There are many variations on this story. For example, the Goddess of Heaven is referred to as Zhinu’s mother. Or that the Goddess became soft as she saw that Niulang and Zhinu cried due to separation and allowed them to see each other.
This year, the Qixi festival will occur August 9th within the Gregorian calendar. Around this time, Niulang and Zhinu will reuniting together. This could be a good time to find your potential lover. It is also a time to pray for Zhinu and Niulang’s safe reunion. What makes this story admirable is that Niulang has endured a lot to reunite with Zhinu. There were certainly many obstacles that prevented their reunion. However, Niulang never gave up on reuniting with Zhinu. Therefore, why must we give up if the obstacles seem tough or nearly impossible? It is a matter of how will we deal with them. In the meantime, I invite you to take a look at other folk-tales from around the world!
I would recommend starting with this very interesting blog which explains the origin behind Lunar New Year.
Photo Sources: These are the sources I have obtained photos from.
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