NOTE: Find newer recommendations in my post Qixi Festival: Popular Gifts, Celebrations for the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
A Valentine asks:
Hi! I’m a Western girl in love with a Chinese guy. I am going to stay in China the whole summer, taking a language course, just to be close to him.
I am wondering, will it be okay if I give him a present on Qixi Festival as a way of expressing my feelings towards him?
Any present suggestions? Maybe something I can bring from the West?
Qixi (七夕节, qīxījié) is known by many names — the Night of Sevens, Magpie Festival, Double Seventh Festival, the Begging for Skills Festival, the Seventh Sister’s Birthday, the Night of Skills. But the reason we talk of love and Qixi here is simple: it’s also called the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
The story goes that once an oxherd, Niulang, and weaving girl, Zhinu, fell in love after he caught a glimpse of her bathing and stole her clothes. Instead of getting a good slap, Niulang got lucky (literally) and got married. The couple had two kids, lived happily ever after — that is, until the heavens (or, in some stories, her mother) realized their love went against natural laws: mortals and fairies cannot marry. She was banished up to the heavens forever, some say to go back to her real job of weaving the clouds. Still, Niulang loved her so much he couldn’t stay away. On the advice of an ox, he slaughtered it (let’s hope that ox got a real good deal in heaven), dressed in its hide, and then traveled up to the heavens to see her. But — aiya! — the heavens interfered by scratching a wide river in the heavens to separate the two lovers, forcing Niulang and Zhinu to stare longingly at each other from opposite banks. Then the magpies took pity on them and formed a bridge over the Milky Way on the seventh day of the seventh moon, bringing the stars together (this also happens in the Northern night sky, when the stars Altair and Vega, representing Niulang and Zhinu, get close). Thus, you have Qixi, the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
When it comes to romantic gestures and celebrations, Qixi Festival is a poor cousin to the more popular Western Valentine’s Day, and even — oddly to Westerners — Christmas Eve. Young Chinese begin to celebrate again, but in small numbers.
But the wane in popularity is all the more reason to celebrate — and, especially, celebrate with your Chinese boyfriend. Chances are, you’ll impress him because you know and care about a holiday from his culture.
So what should you give him?
You could always give him the standard Valentine’s Day standbys, such as chocolates or other sweets. You might draw on his hobbies or favorite pastimes, perhaps giving him a soccer jersey from his favorite team (a lot of Chinese men, my husband included, are huge soccer fans!) or, say, a book he’s been dying to read. It depends. And as for buying in the US versus China, it depends on what you’re getting — though something from your country will always feel that much more special.
But if you want to get a little more traditional, why not do as the Chinese women did, and show off some of your domestic skills on the holiday? You could make him a scarf or hat, do a small cross-stitch pattern, or even just weave together a simple bracelet. You might cook him a sumptuous meal or even simpler, do a little melon carving (a traditional way for women to mark Qixi in some parts).
Whatever you decide, it might just be the beginning of a Qixi tradition that could bring you as close as Zhinu and Niulang. But let’s hope that’s more than just once a year, okay? 😉
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.