Qi Xi 7th Sister Festival:
Poem by Meng Jiao, Tang Dynasty
My late granny used to celebrate every single existing Chinese festival. After the Duan-Wu Festival in the fifth Lunar month, there is Lu-Ban Festival (which celebrates the great Chinese carpenter in ancient China) in the sixth month, and on the seventh day of the seventh month, there is Qi-Xi (pronounced as chi-see if your main language is English) Festival, or the 7th Sister Festival, before the arrival of another main festival: the Mid Autumn Festival in the eighth month.
The Qi-Xi festival is not very widely celebrated, due to its origins and its niche following. But in my much earlier memory, I used to love the Qi-Xi because of the harmonious feeling it gave me, as all the female family members sat on the back balcony at night with all the fresh flowers, fresh fruits and finger food, praying to the stars and I was never tired of listening to all the old legends my late granny had in store for me.
It is based on a Chinese legend about the stars Altair (Star of the Cowherd) and Vega
(Star of the Weaver Girl). Zhi-Nu the Weaver Girl (in some variations she is also the
seventh daughter of the Heavenly King, Yu-Di; some said she was one of His granddaughters)
was a beautiful Goddess in heaven, and she was best known for her skilful hands that weave
all sorts of beautiful materials and clothes; whilst Niu-Lang was a poor but hardworking
cowherd on earth who only inherited an old cow from his late father. The two were separated
by the Milky Way (described as a silver river), which flowed between heaven and earth.
To thank Niu-Lang for his good care, the old cow (apparently was a fairy in some ways)
created an opportunity for Niu-Lang to meet with Zhi-Nu and later fell for her.
For many years, the 7th day of the 7th month (Qi-Xi) had been celebrated amongst the younger girls. It was believed that worshipping the Weaver Girl goddess, one would be granted skills in embroidery like the goddess herself, and would be good at most house chores. In the olden days, the women’s fate was limited to being a good wife and mother, and good embroidery skill is like a girls's natural wealth. Therefore since the days of Han Dynasty, many young females, married or unmarried would pay homage and pray to the star on Qi-Xi festival, hoping to get a good match and to be a good homemaker.
There is no special food made for the day. My late granny, my mum and her sisters would
normally set up an altar on the uncovered part of the balcony of our old house, and
placed fresh flowers, assorted fruits and snacks along with jossticks and candles for
prayers. There would also be some traditional Chinese cosmetics or powder placed on the
side. A popular event of the night was to lead a thread through the needle facing the
bright moon, and those who managed to do so are said to be crafty in embroidery.
Today’s modern women have their own careers and other achievements apart from being a housewife as the ultimate destination, that is why we see fewer and fewer of us paying attention to this festival. But it is still quite a popular festival in places like Hong Kong.