Qixi is a Chinese festival celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh moon. It is sometimes called the Magpie Festival and is considered to be the Chinese Valentine’s Day. On this day, couples might go out for a romantic meal, exchange gifts or take a stroll along the promenade and gaze upwards to see the star-crossed lovers, Niulang and Zhinu in the heavens. Young girls make offerings and prayers to the celestials to ask that they be good at needlework, and that they will find a good and loving husband.
The tale of The Weaver Girl (Vega) and the Cowherd (Altair, part of the Aquila constellation) is a romantic tragedy between Niulang, a lowly cowherd, and Zhinu, a heavenly weaver girl. On a clear night, you can still see the lovers in the sky, separated by the huge expanse of the Milky Way.
The daughter of a Goddess, Zhinu was a skilled weaver and she lived in the heavens with her sisters. Tired of her duties of weaving beautiful coloured clouds, Zhinu ran away only to meet a handsome young cowherd, Niulang. The two fell deeply in love, and got married in secret. The lovers lived a happy life and had two children together.
When the Goddess found out, she was very angry, for faeries were forbidden to marry mortals. The goddess ordered that Zhinu be brought back to heaven so that she may return to her duties, which she had neglected while she was on Earth.
The cowherd was distraught at the loss of his wife, and took their two children to search for her in the heavens. The Goddess, seeing this, grew angry, and pulled the hairpin out of her hair and scratched a great river in the sky to separate the two lovers, thus forming the milky way.
Zhinu sits eternally on one side of the great river, weeping while she weaves clouds on her loom. Niulang, with their two children gazes with deep sadness at his love from across the great expanse. The lovers must sit on each side of the Milky Way, never to be together again, except once a year, when all the magpies in the world take pity and fly up to heaven to become a bridge to allow the two lovers to reunite, on the seventh day of the seventh moon (Qixi).