People in China too have a day devoted to love but it is quite different from Valentine's Day festival as seen in other parts of the world. Chinese Valentine's Day fall on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month in the Chinese Calendar. Hence the day is also called as ‘Festival of the Double Sevens' or Qi Xi - ‘The Night of Sevens'. The other popular name for the Chinese Valentine's Day is ‘Seven Sister's Festival' and ‘Daughter's Festival'.
There is a very interesting legend behind the festival of Valentine's Day in China. The story goes that there once lived an orphaned poor boy called Niu Lang with his brother and sister-in-law. The handsome boy owned an old ox that he worked on the field everyday. The ox is said to be an immortal from the Paradise who was punished for mistakes in heaven and send on earth as an ox. The ox liked the cowherd and one day he said to Niu Lang, "You are a nice person. If you want to get married, go to the river and your wish will come true."
When the Cowherd went to the stream he saw all the seven beautiful daughters of the Emperor who had come down from Heaven to take a bath. Niu Lang was captivated with the beauty of the youngest daughter Zhi Nu and secretly took away her fairy clothes. Without her fairy clothes the youngest daughter could not fly back to the heaven along with her sisters. The cowherd asked the fairy that he would return her clothes if she promised to marry him. The girl coyly agreed to marry the cowherd. They lived a happily married for several years and had two children.
One day, the ox felt that his last day was near. He told the cowherd that he should keep his hide for urgent situation after he dies. Meanwhile, Emperor began to miss his seventh daughter. He sent Zhi Nu's grandmother to bring her back from the earth. The grandmother succeeded in bringing Zhi Nu back to heaven. While the 7th Princess was being taken away to the heaven, the cowboy wore the ox hide and carried his two children in the two bamboo baskets with his wife's old fairy clothes and chased his wife in the sky. To keep the lovers separated forever the grandmother created a Milky Way between them. The seventh princess was moved to the star Vega in the Lyra (Harp) constellation while the cowherd with his two children stayed in the star Altair (Flying one) in the Aquila (Eagle) constellation. The star Vega is therefore popularly known by the name of the Weaving Maid Star whereas the star Altair as the Cowherd Star in China. The mother took pity and two were allowed to meet only once a year on the 7th day of 7th lunar month. It is believed that on this specific day magpies form a bridge with their wings for Zhi Nu to cross to meet her husband.
The celebrations of Chinese Valentine's Day or Qi Qiao Jie - the seventh eve is quite different from usual Valentine's Day celebration we see in rest of the world. There are specific and colorful rituals for the day besides the usual exchange of flowers, cards and chocolates as tokens of love between lovers.
Following the tradition, lovers visit the Temple of Matchmaker on the Chinese Valentine's Day and pray for their love and happiness and their possible marriage. Singles too visit the temple on the day and ask for their luck in love.
The Chinese Valentine Day is also known as the Daughter's Festival. Chinese girls always wished to learn a good handcrafting skill like the weaving maid. On the night of the Chinese Valentine's Day, unmarried girls offer prayers to the Weaving Maid star and seek blessings to become smarter. When the star Vega is high up in the sky, girls perform a test by putting a needle on the water surface. If the needle doesn't sink, it's a sign of girl's maturity and smartness indicating she is eligible to find a husband. Girl who passes the test may ask for any one wish. It is also traditional for young girls in China to demonstrate their domestic arts, especially melon carving, on this day. Chinese Valentine's Day is therefore also known as The Festival to Plead for Skills, The Seventh Sister's Birthday and The Night of Skills.
In some provinces of China, people decorate the ox's horn by flowers on the Chinese Valentine Day in a belief that the ritual will save them from catastrophe. Following the age old tradition women also wash hair to make them look fresh and shining. Children wash their face the next morning using the overnight water for a more natural and beautiful look.
Stargazers celebrate the festival by looking up at star Vega on the east of the Milky Way which represents Zhi Nu, and at the constellation Aquila, on the west side of the Milky Way, where Niu Lang waits for his lover to join him.