Love in the air as Chinese celebrate Qixi

Apart from chocolates and shopping sprees, lovers across the country are celebrating Qixi Festival, or Chinese Valentine's Day, with tradition and romantic photography.

Apart from chocolates and shopping sprees, lovers across the country are celebrating Qixi Festival, or Chinese Valentine's Day, with tradition and romantic photography.

The festival, originating from a 2,000-year-old legend of two lovers, falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month on the Chinese calendar.

The two lovers Niulang and Zhinu, one a cowherd and the other a weaver fairy, were separated by the Silver River (the Milky Way), as their love was not allowed by the gods. They could only reunite once a year when a flock of magpies formed a bridge across the river.

The festival has been an important day for young girls in China for hundreds of years. Since Zhinu is a character of intelligence and ingenuity, girls often go to temples to pray to the fairy for wisdom and dexterity in needlework, a traditional skill for a good wife, as well as a happy marriage.

Qixi Festival was listed as a state-level intangible cultural heritage in 2006.

Ancient rituals contiue


In northwest China's Gansu Province, grand rituals for Qixi start on the first day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar.

The seven-day long ritual consists of seven procedures and 12 ceremonies. Celebrated for hundreds of years, the events attract at least 500,000 local participants every year.

Jiang Siqi, 16, was responsible for the welcoming ceremony of Zhinu, or the Weaving Maid.

The young girl made preparations for the ceremony last month, with more than 30 other girls in Xihe County, in the city of Longnan. They bought costumes, organized rehearsals, and made food for the ceremony.

The welcoming ceremony was held on the last day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar, as the following day refers to a day that heaven's gate will open.

Young girls carried a one-meter-high paper Weaving Maid statue from the edge of a lake and "invited" her to their homes. They burned incense and bowed to the fairy in prayer.

"I learned the customs from my grandmother and mother. The tradition has been pass down for generations," Jiang said. She has participated in the event three times.

Jiang's school and village have also set up Qixi courses to better educate the young students and teach them the ancient customs.

So far, the county has more than 130 intangible culture inheritors of Qixi.

"I embrace every girl who wants to take part in the event and teach them how to complete the ceremonies," said Luo Shumei, a local intangible culture inheritor.

The local government has made efforts to protect the tradition over the past decade, providing investment, filming documentaries, holding performances, and inviting academics from home and abroad to carry out research for Qixi culture.

Wedding photography

Zhong Jianyun admits that his Qixi gift for his wife this year might be the most impressive gift he's ever gotten her.

Zhong is a migrant worker at a construction site in the city of Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province.

He telephoned his wife, who lives in a remote village, days before the festival and invited her to spend the festival with him in Changsha.

His wife, Deng, thought it would be just another ordinary day, as she never expected a romantic gesture from her husband. Zhong finally told her that he would take a set of wedding photos with her at the construction site, a day before the Qixi festival.

Zhong's company organized the photography opportunity for rural migrant employees. Three other couples also took part in the photography Friday morning.

"She likes taking photos very much. So I applied for the free wedding photography immediately after I got the news," Zhong said.

Without ornate backgrounds used by photo studios, the four couples, wearing beautiful wedding dresses, smiled, hugged, and kissed against a backdrop of cement, steel bars, and unfinished buildings.

"It was such a unique scene. The photos we took today will be something I use when I'm old to remind myself of the days we were young and happy," said Deng.

Peng Weibin, 39, has been married for 16 years. He and his wife didn't take wedding photos because of "poor economic conditions." They couldn't wait to take a selfie together after getting dressed up.

Stay romantic when you are old

Qixi is not just a festival for young lovers. The elderly also celebrate the festival in their own ways across China.

Old couples in the city of Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan Province organized "group wedding photos." Hundreds of elderly couples took part in a croquet competition in the city of Jiaozuo to celebrate Qixi. In the city of Xinyu in the eastern province of Jiangxi, they gathered to recall their love stories and share their sweet secrets from their marriages.

In the city of Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province, several old couples celebrated Qixi by taking a flower arranging class, which was organized by a local community.

"They arrived at 8 o'clock, but our class started at 9. I could feel their enthusiasm," said Wang Yan, a flower arranging teacher.

She taught her class the meanings of different flowers. "Red roses represent passionate love, and the lily represents permanent love."

With the help of the teacher, Chen Wanyan made a beautiful bouquet and gave it to his wife.

"You are more stunning than the flowers," the 65-year-old told his wife Wang Zhongying.

"It's very touching. We are accustomed to an ordinary life. There were no flowers, and no diamond ring," Wang said. "But he made up for all of that today."

Chen also planned to take wedding photos with his wife on Friday to celebrate their 40th anniversary.  

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