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What festival am I celebrating? – August 23

August 23, 2012

Qixi – the Milky Way Festival or the Night of Sevens.

This is the story of star-crossed lovers, Zhinu an imortal member of the Queen of Heaven’s family, and Niulang, a lowly cowherd.  Zhinu is represented in the sky by the star Vega; Niulang is represented by Altair.  Both of these stars are prominent in the summer night sky as two points in the asterism known as the Summer Triangle.

There are, of course, many versions and variations on the story, but just as in Romeo and Juliet, the two main characters meet and fall in love.  In this instance they marry, have two children and think that they are home free on their way to happily every after.

But the Queen of Heaven, who up to now has not been paying attention, finds out about the liaison and demands that Zhinu return to the sky where she must again take up her regular job of weaving colorful clouds.  This is a job which, apparently, no one else can do.

Niulang is despondent – he is also left with two little kids to raise by himself.  Now things get a little strange.  His ox begins to talk to him.  Listening to the ox’s advice, Niulang kills the beast, puts on its skin, picks up the kids and travels to heaven to reclaim his wife.

He was not fast enough, however, because Queenie learns of the plan and scratches a huge river across the sky between Zhinu and Niulang creating the Milky Way – a river they cannot cross – EXCEPT on the seventh night of the seventh month when the magpies fly up to heaven and create a sky bridge so that the lovers can be together on that one night of the year.

This Chinese festival is related to the Japanese Star Festival, Tanabata.

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