When we think of a romantic time in the UK, we probably think of Valentine’s Day in February.
In China and parts of East Asia, though, the month of the August would surely spring to mind – due to the annual Qixi Festival, which is being celebrated today (Thursday, August 4) in 2022.
Even Google is getting in on the celebrations, with a traditional drawing for Qixi replacing its usual logo.
So, what is Qixi exactly, and how is it celebrated?
What is Qixi Festival?
You might notice it is also referred to as Qiqiao Festival, ‘Chinese Valentine’s Day’ or Double Seventh Festival.
It takes place every year, specifically on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
This year, Qixi falls on Thursday, August 4 – and the date differs according to the Gregorian calendar, falling in 2023 on Tuesday, August 22, and in 2024 on Saturday, August 10.
Qixi dates back at least 2,000 years, and is considered a very romantic day.
It celebrates the annual reunion of Niulang, a mortal, and Zhinü, the goddess of weaving – whose romance is the subject of the traditional Chinese folk tale called The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.
There are several versions of the story, but essentially: Zhinü travelled from heaven to Earth and fell in love with Niulang, with whom she had children. Despite their love, their relationship was forbidden. To keep them apart, they were separated by the Milky Way.
Only once a year, on Qixi, could the couple reunite, by meeting on a special bridge, built by magpies, over the stars.
How is Qixi Festival celebrated?
According to China Travel, there are a number of traditional customs associated with Qixi.
Once upon a time, young women would pray, display their embroidery work, as well as dye their fingernails during Qixi – as part of the worship of weaving goddess Zhinü.
Traditionally, a pastry called Qiaoguo – made from oil, flour, sugar and sesame – would be eaten. The site says it is still enjoyed in parts of Eastern China, such as Shanghai and Shandong.
Some may also look to the sky for the star Vega, which Zhinü symbolises, and Altair, symbolising Niulang.
While there are some traditional celebrations for Qixi observed, for many the day is seen as a day of romance.
It is a day to spend time with one’s partner, go on dates, share gifts, or even get hitched – as many couples choose the day to get married, despite superstitions around the day regarding separation.