Qixi Festival, also spelt Qiqiao, is one of the most romantic traditional Chinese holidays and is labelled as Chinese Valentine's Day. It is celebrated on the evening of the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. Hence another name for this holiday is the Double Seven Festival. The Day of the Double Seven is also one of the most ancient holidays in China. The festival started in the Han Dynasty and is about the same age as the Great Wall of China—over 2,000 years old.
Qixi Festival is rooted in the legend about the cowherd Niúláng and weaver Zhinü, a touching love story that has been passed down for generations. Niúláng fell in love with a goddess from heaven with the help of his ox. They soon got married and made a family. However, as the rule of heaven forbid the love between goddesses and humans; thus, they were forced to be apart and allowed to meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. On this day, there would be a bridge formed by magpies over the Milky Way between them.
During the rule of the Song Dynasty and the Yuan Dynasty, noisy fairs were held on this day where unique gifts and things were sold. In relatively recent years, the Qixi Festival became very popular among the youth, who celebrate it as a day of lovers. Girls were encouraged to pray to Zhinü and ask for wisdom, great and pure love, and a good husband. Praying sessions take place in major local temples, such as Lama Temple in Beijing or Wong Tai Sin Temple in Hong Kong.
In addition to these traditions, there are hundreds of rituals celebrated during the Double Seventh Festival, which are different in each province of China. Some people burn paper crafts as an offering for Zhinü. Others offer fruit and pastries hoping for a better future. Some villages hold weaver contests among the girls. It has also become a tradition to get married that day. Therefore, from year to year, the number of couples who want to get married has been growing. In the evening, it is customary to look up into the sky and seek the Vega that stands for Zhinü, the Altair that stands for Niúláng, and the Milky Way between them that represents the river.
In large cities, the traditions are shifting towards the typical Valentine's Day celebrations. Hotels, restaurants, florists, and other service providers capitalize on this by offering special deals on "Chinese Valentine's Day."