QiXi Festival (七夕節), also known as Taiwanese Valentine’s Day, is a celebration that merges folklore with romance as the country celebrates the legend of the Weaver Girl and the Cow Herder. The celebration is held on the 7th day for the 7th month in the Lunar Calendar (this year it will be on August 4 of the Gregorian Calendar). The name translates as “The Seventh Night” and it is based on a tragic love story.
If you are unfamiliar with this story, it is a tale of forbidden love. Niulang was a cow herder who befriended an ox after saving him. As a reward, the ox—who was actually the god of cattle, banished from heaven—assisted him in meeting Zhinu. She was the daughter of a goddess and the Jade Emperor who grew bored with life in Heaven and so she escaped to find happiness on earth.
The two fell in love and had two children, but the goddess did not approve of her daughter’s secret marriage to a mortal. Zhinu was forced back to heaven, to the devastation of Niulang. The ox offered himself in sacrifice, allowing Niulang to kill him and wear the hide of the god in order to get into Heaven. But the goddess did not like this and used her daughter’s hair pin to draw a river we now know as the Milky Way to drive a barrier between them.
Niulang and his children were devastated that they could not get their beloved Zhinu back. So much so that the magpies took pity on them and all moved to form a bridge over the river. The goddess, moved by their love for one another, allowed for them to meet only once a year on that day, the seventh day of the seventh month, in order to be reunited.
Thus, on this day—the only day of the year when the lovers can be reunited—love is in the air, and this has become known as the Eastern Valentine’s Day.
How to Celebrate
Xiqi is a day of love, but not everyone has someone to celebrate with. For those who are single, this day is a day to visit the Temple of the Matchmaker and pray for a good partner. People also set up an alter to Zhinu with a food offering of sticky rice (油飯 yóufàn), sesame oil chicken (麻油雞酒 máyóujījiǔ), and soft rice cake (軟粿 ruǎn guǒ). It is also common for people to go on blind dates around this time, as they are known to give good luck with romance.
The city comes alive with celebration. The business district near Taipei 101 is a popular dating hot-spot, where promotions are held at several of the restaurants and shops in honor of the holiday. In addition, Taipei 101 itself will have a special lighting display to honor the day. The Ferris Wheel of Neihu is another popular attraction that symbolizes romance to the Taiwanese. Other popular attractions include the Rainbow Bridge in Songshan, where couples can sign and lock a lock to the fence to symbolize the longevity of their relationship, and a romantic stroll along the fisherman’s wharf of Tamsui.
If you are interested in this ancient Chinese legends well as others, I highly recommend picking up a book on Chinese fairy tales or Mythology, such as this one: