The Double-Seventh Day refers to the seventh day of the seventh month on the Chinese lunar calendar. The day is not as well-known as many other Chinese festivals. But almost everyone in China, young and old, is very familiar with the story behind this festival. A long long time ago, there was a poor cowherd, Niulang. His parents died when he was young, so he lived with his elder brother. Unfortunately, both his brother and sisiter-in-law were mean and cruel and treated Niulang very badly. They would not give him enough food to eat, and made him work so hard that he hardly had time to sleep. Finally, they kicked him out of their home. All he had in the world were the clothes on his back and an old ox.
Niulang built a small thatched cottage on the side of a mountain. He cut and dug and sweat until he had made a vegetable garden out of the rochy soil. He was often tired and hungry, but always found time to take care of his old ox. One day, this old ox began to talk. It said that it used to be Taurus, a proud star in the night sky. But it violated the law of the Heavenly Palace by stealing some seeds of grain to give to the world of Man. As a punishment, it was banished to this world as an ox.
Not far from Niulang's cottage was a sacred pond. The old ox told its master that several young goddesses would come to this pond in a few days to bathe. One of them would be called Zhinu,°the Girl Weaver± .Zhinu was a granddaughter of the King of the Heavenly Kingdom. Virtuous and kind, she was the most beautiful being in the whole universe. The old ox paused for a moment, then said that if Niulang could take away her clothes while she was in the sacred pond, she would stay and be his wife.
When the day came, Niulang hid in the tall reeds by the pond and waited for the young goddesses. They soon came, just as the old ox had said they would. They took off their silk robes and jumped happily into the clear water. Niulang crept out of his hiding place, picked up Zhinu's clothes and ran away. Her companions were so frightened that they jumped out, dressed as quickly as they could and flew away. Zhinu was left alone in the pond. Niulang returned and gave her back her clothes. He had adored her from the first moment he saw her. They looked into each other's eyes. The heavenly girl told the poor cowherd that she would be his wife.
The couple were deeply in love and got married very soon afterwards . Niulang worked hard growing crops and Zhinu raised silkworms. He made sure that they ate their full every day. The exquisite silks and satins she wove soon became famous throughout the land. Three years later, Zhinu gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. They named the boy Brother Gold and the girl Sister Jade. The couple were overjoyed with the new additions to their family and believed they would stay happily together for the rest of their lives.
One day, the old ox was dying. Before it closed its eyes for the last time, it told the young couple that its hide would enable a man to fly even to the heavens. It asked them to preserve it carefully.
Meanwhile, the Kigg and Queen of Heaven found out that their granddaughter had gone to the world of Man and taken a husband. They were furious. The Queen flew down to earth with some of her soldiers.
Niulang came back from the field one day to find his two children sitting on the ground, crying. They told him that an old lady lad taken their mother away. Niulang remembered what the old ox had told him. He placed the twins in wicker baskets on a pole to carry on his shoulder, put on the magic hide, and flew up, up into the sky. He had almost caught up with the Queen and his wife when the Queen heard the crying of his children. Looking back, with an angry wave of her arm, a raging torrent immediately appeared between her group and Niulang. He could not get past this wide swollen river. Hearbroken, Niulang and his children could only look and weep bitterly. The King in his Heavenly Palace was moved by the sound of their crying, and decided to allow Niulang and Zhinu to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
The poor couple of Niulang and Zhinu each became a star. Niulang is Altair and Zhinu is Vega. The wide river that keeps them apart is known as the Milky Way. On the east side of the Milky Way, Altair is the middle one of a line of three. The end ones are the twins. To the southeast are six stars in the shape of an ox. Vega is to the west of the Milky Way; the stars around her form in the shape of a loom. Every year, the two stars of Altair and Vega are closest together on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
This sad love story has passed down from generation to generation. It is well known that very few maagpies are seen on the Double-Seventh Day. This is because most of them fly to the Milky Way, where they form a bridge so that the two lovers might come together. The next day, it is seen that many magpies are bald; this is because Niulang and Zhinu walked and stood too long on the heads of their loyal feathered friends .
In ancient times, the Double-Seventh Day was a festival specially for young women. Girls, no matter from rich or poor families, would put on their holiday best to celebrate the annual meeting of the cowherd and the Girl Weaver. Parents would place an incense burner in the courtyard and lay out some fruit as offerings. Then all the girls in the family would kowtow to Niulang and Zhinu and pray for ingenuity.
In the Tang Dynasty about 1,000 years ago, rich families in the capital city of Chang'an would set up a decorated tower in the courtyard and name it :Tower of Praying for Ingenuity. They prayed for various types of ingenuity. Most girls would pray for outstanding sewing or cooking skills. In the past these were important virtues for a woman.
Girls and women would gather together in a square and look into the star-filled night sky. They would put their hands behind their backs, holding needle and thread. At the word,Start,they would try to thread the needle. The one who succeeded first would be granted her wish by Zhinu, the Girl Weaver.
The same night, the girls and women would also dislpay carved melons and samples of their cookies and other delicacies. During the daytime, they would skillfully carve melons into all sorts of things. Some would make a gold fish. others preferred flowers, still others would use several melons and carve them into an exquisite building. These melons were called Hua Gua or Carved Melons.
The ladies would also show off their fried cookies made in many different shapes.They would invite the Girl Weaver to judge who was the best. Of course, Zhinu would not come down to the world because she was busy talking to Niulang after a long year of separation. These activities gave the girls and women a good opportunity to show their skills and added fun to the fesstival.
Chinese people nowadays, especially city residents, no longer hold such activities, Most young women buy their clothes from shops and most young couples share the housework. More and more men are learning to cook, so it is perhaps not so important for the woman to develop her cuisine skills. In fact, many men can cook better than their wives.
The Double-Seventh Day is not a pulic holiday in China. However, it is still a day to celebrate the annual meeting of the loving couple, the Cowherd and the Girl Weaver. Not surprisingly, many people consider the Double-seventh Day the Chinese Valentine's Day.