The Double Seventh Festival refers to the seventh night of the seventh lunar month. It is a traditional folk festival of the Han people. This night is not only the time when the legendary Cowherd and the Girl Weaver are supposed to have their annual meeting, but also a good opportunity for women to pray for the Girl Weaver for the purpose of seeking dexterity. Therefore, this festival is also named " Maiden's Day", " Daughter's Day". The day is not as well-known as many other Chinese festivals. But almost everyone in China, young or old, is very familiar with the story behind it.


Once upon a time, there lived a poor cowherd, Niulang, whose parents had died long before. He had to live together with his elder brother. Unfortunately, his brother and his sister-in -law were very mean and often 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 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 rocky soil. He was often tired and hungry, but always found time to take good care of his old ox. One day, the old ox suddenly began to speak to him. It said that it used to be Taurus, the Golden-Ox Star, in the sky and had been banished by the Lord of Heaven to this world as punishment for its violation of heavenly rule by spreading grain seeds to this world. The old ox told Niulang that the goddesses of Heaven would take a bath in a sacred pond not far from his cottage a few days later. Among them was a beautiful, virtuous and industrious girl whose name is Zhinu, the Girl Weaver. Zhinu was a granddaughter of the King of the Heavenly Kingdom. If the Cowherd took the advantage of their bath in the pond to take away her clothes, she would stay and become 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 ox said they would. They took off their silk robes and jumped 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, leaving the Girl Weaver behind. Niulang returned and gave her back her clothes. He had adored her from the first sight he saw her. They looked into each other's eyes. The Girle Weaver told the poor Cowherd that she would be his wife.


After their marriage, the Cowherd ploughed and the Girl Weaver wove and they loved each other. The Girl Weaver became famous far and near for her dexterity in raising silkworms, reeling and weaving exquisite silks and satins. 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 additions to their family and believed that they would remain a devoted couple to the end of their lives.


One day, the ox was dying. Before it closed its eyes for the last time, it told the young couple to skin him and keep its hide after its death. It also told them that its hide would enablr a man to fly even to Heaven. After the old ox died, the young couple reluctantly skinned it and stored it with meticulous care.


Meanwhile, the King and Queen of Heaven found out that their granddaughter had gone to the world of Man and taken a husband. They flew into a temper. They ordered a god to bring the Girl Weaver back as soon as possible.


Niulang came back from the field one day to find his two children sitting on the ground and crying. He found the seat at the loom empty. The two children told him that an old lady had just taken their mother away. Niulang remembered what the old ox had told him, he carried his two children in two baskets on a pole and put on the magic hide. Immediately, he got as light as a cloud and flew 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, she pulled off a gold clasp from her hair and drew a line behind her. A raging torrent immediately appeared in the sky. This is the so-called River of Heaven. The Cowherd and his children could not get past this wide and swollen river. Heartbroken, he and his children could only look and weep bitterly. Moved by their mournful crying, the King of Heaven decided to allow the separated couple to meet on a bridge of magpies on the seventh night of the seventh Lunar month each year.


The poor couple each became a star, the Cowherd, Altair and the Girl Weaver, Vega. The wide river that kept them apart is known as the Milky Way.


This sad love story has passed from generation to generation. It is well known that very few magpies are seen on the Double-Seventh Day. This is because they all fly to the Milky Way to form a bridge for the meeting of the Cowherd and the Girl Weaver. And the next day the magpies' heads are bald because the Cowherd and the Girl Weaver walked and stood too long on the heads of their loyal feathered friends.


The Double-Seventh Day in China is considered by many the Chinese Valentine's Day.







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