Two Major Love Days: Part 2—The Qixi Festival

Welcome to Part 2 of my dive into two of the biggest love days! The original article covered both, but it grew so large that I decided to split it in half. I’ll turn now from Valentine’s Day to the Qīxī Festival of China. Though it may not be as well known in countries where Valentine’s dominates, this love day still has a sizeable following. Like Valentine’s Day, it has experienced some commercialization, but at its heart is a love story that has survived for more than 2, 000 years. I particularly enjoy how its mythology weaves itself around the stars. So let’s take a look at this very different love day and how it has evolved.

Qīxī Jiē

 “What I find most disturbing about Valentine’s Day is, look, I get that you have to have a holiday of love, but in the height of flu season, it makes no sense.”1

~Lewis Black.

The ideal season of love is very much a matter of personal opinion. If cold weather makes you want to cuddle with cocoa beside fires, the timing of Valentine’s Day is great. However, if you prefer a warmer day to celebrate love, the Qīxī Festival may be a better match for you. The Qīxī Jiē (七夕节), also known as the Double Seven Festival and Seventh Night Festival, is sometimes called Chinese Valentine’s Day.2 It takes place near the end of summer, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar calendar month. For this year, that will be August 25th. Valentine’s Day rarely draws on its origin story in advertising these days. By contrast, the Qīxī Festival actively commemorates the mythology behind it: the classic tale of Niulang (牛郎) the Cowherd and Zhinü (織女) the Weavermaid.

Artwork from the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace in Beijing depicting Zhinü and Niulang. Photo by shizhao (talk)拍摄,画者不明 / Public domain

First appearing in the Shijing collection,3 which contains material from approximately the 11th-5th centuries B.C.E.,4 it tells of a literally star-crossed love. Niulang is generally described as a mortal cowherd driven away from home by his siblings with only an ox for company.5 The ox later reveals himself to be a fallen star. He tells Niulang to go to a sacred pool where heavenly maidens bathe, steal a robe, and claim that maiden as his bride. Following these instructions brings Niulang to Zhinü, skilled heavenly weaver and the Jade Emperor’s granddaughter. The two build a life together and have two children. About that time the Jade Emperor notices his granddaughter is missing and Zhinü is taken away. Through Niulang’s pursuit of his love, the Tian He or Milky Way is created. Niulang and his children become stars, only able to meet Zhinü once a year when magpies form a bridge over the starry river.

These names are used for real stars in Chinese astronomy. In Western astronomy, the star Zhinü is called Vega. Niulang is Altair with two small stars representing the children nearby. The myth may be based on the fact that on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, Altair and Vega are at their closest. The GB Times article I consulted also points out that the Greek constellation of Taurus lies off to the south-east. It hints this may represent the ox, though I’m not so sure. After all, the ox was a fallen star who, in the course of the story, dies. Niulang uses his ox’s skin as a magic carpet to chase after Zhinü, so I wouldn’t think there would be a whole constellation for this ox, especially not so far from his friend.

A NASA image of the Summer Triangle. Vega is the bright star above the Milky Way and Altair is on the opposite side. Attribution: NASA, ESA Credit: A. Fujii / Public domain

Traditional Qīxī activities focus mainly on worshiping Zhinü. Girls would pray for her aid in finding a good husband and for skill and wisdom as a wife.6 They might compete in weaving or embroidery to show their skills, offer fruit in hope of sweet love, or hang flowers from the horns of an ox.7 In Shandong Province, it is traditionally said that if spider webs appear on offerings for the festival, they have pleased Zhinü.8 Another tradition involves seven friends eating seven dumplings together, three of which contain a needle for skill, a coin for fortune, or a red date for early marriage. Today, traditional activities are increasingly blended or overtaken by Valentine’s customs like gift exchanges between couples.9 However, star-gazing and the legend of the celestial couple are still popular.

Customs may be changing, but Qīxī is still just as popular as China’s other love day, the Spring Lantern Festival, which falls close to Valentine’s Day. Qīxī is one of the most popular days to get married, especially for traditional style weddings.10 This might be a recent development, although in the mini-series The Ghost Bride, Li Lian’s Amah or nanny sees a Qīxī Festival party invitation as an opportunity for her charge to find “prospects.”11 If you’re interested in getting a visual sense of this festival, I suggest checking out this show based on Yangsze Choo’s novel by the same name. The party sets the whole plot in motion. Li Lian may struggle in the embroidery competition, but she does much better when confronted with a mystery of murder and underworld bribery involving an entitled ghost, a skeptic medical student, and a hilarious Heavenly Guard.

Qīxī Variants

Though it hasn’t experienced the same modern reach as Valentine’s Day, the Qīxī Festival has influenced many of China’s closest neighbors. Korea, Vietnam, and Japan all have festivals and their own versions of the Cowherd and Weaver legend. Details of both vary by region, but they are still clearly bound by a common thread.


Known here as Chilseok (칠석), this festival also falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. This day is generally considered the turning point of the year from hot days to chilly rains.12 Instead of having a story of love between a mortal and an immortal, the Korean tale has cowherd Gyeonwu living in the sky across the Milky Way from weaver Jiknyeo, who falls in love with him after a chance glimpse. Jiknyeo’s father, the Heavenly King, willingly grants the couple their marriage, but later separates them after they become so busy with each other that they no longer perform their assigned duties. Magpies again form the bridge for the couple to meet, while their tears at parting begin the rains.

Despite the story being an important part of the holiday, the traditional activities weren’t particularly romantic. People would take baths “for good health” and eat wheat cakes and noodles before the quality of stored wheat declined.13 In modern South Korea, Valentine’s Day and White Day are more prominent celebrations of love, which might be why I haven’t yet encountered any definite media depictions of Chilseok. Gyeonwu and Jiknyeo are still well-known, though. In Crash Landing on You, South Korean heiress Se-ri describes her relationship with North Korean solider Jeong Hyeok as being like that of Gyeonu (variant Anglicization) and Jiknyeo.14 The North Korean women she speaks to don’t know the names Romeo and Juliet, but they immediately understand the meaning of the celestial couple.

close up of leaf
Photo by Pixabay on


The Vietnamese version of the festival retains more of the romantic tone from the Chinese one. Thất Tịch activities include going to Chùa Hà or the Ha Pagoda,15 where couples pray for shared happiness.16 I wasn’t able to determine much else for sure since this festival is barely mentioned in most English-language sources and I’m not sure how much I trust Google Translate for alternate names. An article from Vietnamoi describes rain on this day as the tears of the celestial lovers, with star-gazing a common outing on the odd clear day.17 The article also implies the Vietnamese Cowherd and Weaver story is nearly the same as the Chinese version, though other sources make it sound more like the Korean version. This adorable animation of the legend from the Miền Cổ Tích YouTube channel also seems to suggest that Ngưu Lang and Chức Nữ have more in common with Niu Lang and Zhinü.

If you know additional details about Thất Tịch, please share! I’d love to learn more.


Tanabata (七夕), or the Star Festival, is one of Japan’s biggest traditional holidays. Some regions still observe Tanabata on a lunar calendar schedule, but overall it has transferred to the Gregorian calendar on July 7th. The Japanese version of the legend has Orihime the weaver as the daughter of Tentei, lord of the heavens.18 Tentei actually arranges Orihime’s marriage to the equally immortal cowherd Hikoboshi. The lovers are once again separated for neglecting their duties with the added threat that if they don’t work hard enough, Tentei will flood the heavenly river so that the moon cannot ferry them across to meet.

The festival was once confined to the elite social class, who held poetry contests and star-gazing parties on the date.19 However, most of the traditions observed today developed later when it spread to the entire populace. People dress up in cotton kimono called “yukata”,20 eating a meal of thread-like sōmen noodles and writing wishes on strips of paper called “tanzaku.”21 The tanzaku are then tied to bamboo branches along with seven other kinds of paper decorations. The decorated bamboo were once tossed into rivers or the sea at the end of the festival but now they are more often burned.

There is no expectation that Tanabata wishes have to be romantic. In the haunting Studio Ghibli film When Marnie Was There, Anna Sasaki, who hates her blue eyes for marking her mixed heritage, wishes for “a normal life” on Tanabata.22 The second opening sequence of Naruto Shippuden’s 14th season also shows Naruto carrying a bamboo laden with tanzaku,23 symbolically carrying the wishes of his people. So likely, the true spirit of Tanabata is reaching for an impossible dream, whether that means a love worth waiting and working for, the acceptance of our flawed selves, or protecting the community that supports us.

Bamboo with tanzaku and other Tanabata decorations. Attribution: ★Kumiko★ from Tokyo, Japan / CC BY-SA (

Thanks for joining me on this exploration of Valentine’s Day and the Qīxī Festival! If you celebrate one or more of these love days, please share about your experiences! You’ll be helping me on my quest to continue learning. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on these love days with their starry-eyed lovers if they’re new to you. What do you think? Will you be looking for these stars next summer?


  1. Black, Lewis, AZQuotes, accessed Feb. 19, 2020,
  2. Raitisoja, Geni, “Qixi Festival and the story of Chinese Valentine’s Day,” GB Times, Aug. 3, 2016, accessed Feb. 17, 2020,
  3. Theobald, Ulrich, “Cowherd (Niulang 牛郎) and Weavermaid (Zhinü 織女),”, Sep. 9, 2012, accessed Feb. 17, 2020,
  4. Theobald, Ulrich, “Shijing 詩經 or Maoshi 毛詩,”, Jul. 24, 2010, accessed Feb. 19, 2020,
  5. Raitsoja.
  6. Raitsoja.
  7. “The Qixi Festival Story,”, accessed Feb. 19, 2020,
  8. Raitsoja.
  9. Akasu, Hideto, “The Romance that Spread Through Asia,” The World of Chinese, Jul. 7, 2015, accessed Feb. 17, 2020,
  10. Xinhua, “Couples choose to marry on ‘Chinese Valentine’s Day’,” CPC Encyclopedia, updated Aug. 6, 2008, accessed Feb. 19, 2020,
  11. The Ghost Bride, “Chapter 1,” episode 1, directed by Shio-chuan Quek, written by Anwari Ashraf, Dan Hamamura, Kai Wu, Yasmin Yaacob, and Yangsze Choo, Ideate Media, Jan. 23, 2020.
  12. “Chilseok: The Traditional Korean Valentine’s Day,” Asia Society, accessed Feb. 17, 2020,
  13. ”Chilseok.”
  14. Crash Landing on You, episode 5, directed by Jung Hyo Lee, written by Ji Eun Park, Studio Dragon, Dec. 28, 2019.
  15. “Lễ Thất Tịch là ngày gì? Ý nghĩa ngày lễ Thất Tịch ở Việt Nam,” Vietnamoi, Aug. 29, 2017, accessed Feb. 17, 2020,
  16. Akasu.
  17. “Lễ Thất Tịch.”
  18. “Tanabata (Star Festival),”, Jul. 4, 2015, accessed Feb. 17, 2020,
  19. “Tanabata (Star Festival).”
  20. “Tanabata (Star Festival).” #Kurihara, Juju, “Make a Wish for Tanabata,” Iromegane, Jul. 4, 2011, accessed Feb. 19, 2020,
  21. “Tanabata (Star Festival).”
  22. When Marnie Was There, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and James Simone, Tokyo: Studio Ghibli, Jul. 19, 2014.
  23. Naruto Shippuden, episodes 307-320, season 14, directed by Hayato Date, Pierrot and Tokyo TV, April 4-Jul. 4, 2013.

10 thoughts on “Two Major Love Days: Part 2—The Qixi Festival

  1. It’s nice to go back so many years to know that love
    it has always occupied the most important in people. Be it the culture of any country, it pays homage to the day of love with a lot of passion. The description you make of this event in China, is very interesting and captures, in all its extension, its importance of this date. I have enjoyed reading your article and also, I have expanded my knowledge of an ancient culture full of mysteries.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It is amazing! I don’t think the length of time this story has existed really hit me until I wrote it down. More than 2, 000 years, wow. That’s way longer than the tales of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think star gazing is so romantic! I would love to celebrate Tanabata. It can be so liberating to wish for the impossible with a lot of other people. One of those wishes must come through. I do believe when you hang your wishes/prayers into a tree (or bamboo) that the wind will carry them on and that the maybe can arrive at a place where they are heard.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve only been to one Tanabata celebration, but anytime I see pictures of the trees covered in wishes, it gives me a feeling of awe. I love traditions that center around wishing. I think the act of making that wish can open us up to new possibilities, which gets us part of the way towards those wishes coming true. 🌟Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a lovely post and interesting information. I loved it because I have learnt about different traditions and cultures, about Valentine’s Day and also the Tanabata which you have beautifully written. Thanks for sharing 👍😊

    Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.