The couple shows off the bilingual poster the author's boyfriend made for her (COURTESY)
Despite many Chinese people being very pragmatic when it comes to matters of the heart, Chinese culture also caters to us diehard romantics with the Butterfly Lovers, Madame White Snake, and, of course, the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, just to name a few.
The Qixi Festival, also known as the Double Seventh Festival, is so named because it falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. This year, it falls on August 17. The festival is rooted in one of the most romantic myths: Niulang, the Cowherd, and Zhinü, the Weaver Girl from the heavens. These two lovers were separated by a giant river in the sky because love between a mortal and a goddess was not allowed.
However, once a year—as the legend goes—magpies take pity on the separated lovers and form a bridge in the sky to enable them to be reunited for one night on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The Cowherd is represented by the star Altair and the Weaver Girl by Vega, while the Milky Way represents the river separating them.
In the past, there had been many traditions linked to this old tale. For example, girls used to make offerings to the heavens and pray for a good husband. Today, young Chinese couples like to exchange gifts such as chocolates and flowers on Qixi or enjoy a romantic meal together, much like the Western Valentine's Day. Some even choose it as their wedding day. But like Valentine's Day, it too has become commercialized.
I first heard of Qixi upon moving to China and saw it promoted on the Internet and on social media. I love living between East and West and enjoy both Chinese and Western festivals, since I can cash in on both holidays. The same of course applies to my Chinese boyfriend.
Valentine's Day in February and Qixi in late summer make for two romantic poles in a calendar year for Chinese couples. My boyfriend and I like to go to a bakery for cakes and a tête-à-tête, or give each other little gifts such as clothing or body products. But the most romantic gift to date was the time my boyfriend was away working in Sydney, Australia, for several months.
Although I enjoyed spending Qixi that year strolling through Beijing's hutongs by myself and admiring the bouquets of roses, lilies and carnations on sale, I missed my boyfriend. But despite being half a world away, he didn't forget Qixi! He made a bilingual poster with a photo of both of us which read, "Baby I love you/Baobei wo ai ni, Happy Chinese Valentine's Day."
He had approached locals at a Sydney supermarket—diverse individuals and couples—and asked them to hold up the sign so he could take photographs of them with it. Since he does not speak English that fluently, he wrote his request on the back of the sign: "Can you help me with a shadow [photo]. My girlfriend works in Beijing, China. I want to give her a surprise. Today is Chinese Valentine's Day."
He sent me the photos through WeChat and they truly touched my heart. Seeing him so happy experiencing a foreign country was part of the gift. Of course, in a good relationship, more or less every day is Qixi or Valentine's Day. My boyfriend and I have the best of East and West, which is the joy of being in a cross-cultural relationship.
Qixi is around the corner, so it's time to start getting creative! I am sure that my boyfriend and I will again enjoy this beautiful Chinese festival half a world away from my home country.
The author is an American living in Beijing
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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