What is Chinese Valentine's Day and how is it celebrated?

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What is Chinese Valentine’s Day?

Chinese Valentine’s Day (七夕节 Qīxìjié) is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Also called Qixi Festival (literally: “Evening of Sevens Festival”), this unique celebration of love is deeply rooted in Chinese folklore and is based on the romantic legend of Zhinü (織女 Zhīnǚ) and Niulang (牛郎 Niúláng).

Although not an official Chinese holiday, Qixi has over 2,000 years of history and is widely celebrated by couples throughout China. It even has its own respective versions in Japan and Korea.

The Story of the Qixi Festival: The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl

According to legend, Zhinü, represented by the star Vega, was one of the daughters of the Jade Emperor. Bored with her mundane life in heaven, Zhinü descended to earth and defied the rules of heaven by falling in love with the mortal Niulang, represented by Altair, the brightest star in the constellation of Aquila.

Zhinü’s mother, the Goddess of Heaven, soon discovered that Zhinü had married a mortal and promptly sent soldiers to retrieve her. The soldiers made quick work of their assignment and, tragically, the lovers were separated.

In the face of his devastating loss, Zhinü’s mortal husband Niulang carried their two children to heaven in search of his beloved wife. Yet the Goddess of Heaven, ever the controlling mother, quickly learned of Niulang’s arrival and created a tremendous river—the Milky Way itself—between him and Zhinü to separate them for eternity.

Moved by the couple’s love, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a flock of beautiful magpies formed a bridge over the great celestial river so that Niulang and Zhinü could meet on what came to be known as the “Magpie Bridge.”

Witnessing this most romantic scene unfold—and to the delight of lovers worldwide—the Goddess of Heaven underwent a dramatic change of heart! She thus decided to allow the lovers to meet on the Magpie Bridge each year on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month forevermore.

When is Chinese Valentine’s Day on the Gregorian calendar?

In 2021, Qixi Festival will fall on August 14 on the Gregorian calendar. In 2022, it will be celebrated on August 5.

How is 七夕节 (Qīxìjié) Celebrated in China?

The Chinese Valentine’s Day is a time for couples to express their love, which they usually do with an array of elaborate gifts and gestures. Like any romantic holiday, couples spend time together, enjoy a nice dinner, exchange gifts, go to the cinema, etc. Qixi Festival brings an air of romanticism to the streets of China, with couples gazing into the night sky in search of the stars Vega and Altair.

Qixi is a time to bake and eat 巧果 (qiǎoguǒ), a type of sweet pastry. This is because the character 巧 (qiǎo) in 巧果 sounds very similar to 桥 (qiáo), which means bridge, thus symbolizing the celestial Magpie Bridge! 巧 can also mean “skillful,” so by eating these little sweets women can become 心灵手巧 (xīnlíng shǒuqiǎo)—clever and skillful. Traditionally, women also pray to Zhinü for wisdom, a good husband, and a happy life.

巧果 (qiǎoguǒ), a special type of sweet pastry, is a popular treat on Chinese Valentine's day.

Other Romantic Holidays in China

In addition to Qixi, there are a few other romantic holidays celebrated each year in China:

February 14: Valentine's Day (情人节 Qíngrénjié)

Valentine’s Day is mainly popular amongst younger generations as it is an import from the West, and it is celebrated a bit differently in China. Usually, women gift chocolate to their partners to show their appreciation and love. Men are then expected to return the favor one month later, as we’ll see below.

March 14: White Valentine’s Day (白色情人节 Báisè Qíngrénjié)

On this day, men are expected to reciprocate the gifts received on February 14th and present their partners with white chocolates. They are also expected to buy gifts that are greater in value than those received from their significant other the previous month.

Although White Valentine’s Day was originally created by the confectionery industry in Japan in the 1970s, it soon became very popular throughout East Asia.

May 20: 520 Festival (五二零节 Wǔ'èrlíngjié)

Thanks to the large number of homophones in Chinese, a new phenomenon of using numbers to replace internet slang has emerged which consequently gave birth to the “520 Festival.”

The numbers “520” (五二零 wǔ èr líng) sound like “I love you” (我爱你 wǒ ài nǐ) in Chinese. Therefore, May 20th has become yet another Chinese Valentine's Day! Although not as popular as the Qixi Festival, it is still a day for couples to exchange love notes, money-filled red envelopes, and small gifts.

But singles fret not! There is actually a holiday for singles in China. In fact, Singles' Day is so popular that it now ranks as the biggest 24-hour shopping event in the world!

Although it's no longer considered a romantic holiday today, the Lantern Festival was also associated with love and romance in ancient China and is sometimes referred to as the "real" traditional Chinese Valentine's Day.

Now that you know the basics about romantic holidays in China, why not brush up on your Chinese vocabulary? The first step to meeting someone new is saying "hello," so check out our list of 12 ways to say "hi" in Chinese.

Of course, the best way to improve your Chinese is to engage in full language immersion. We hope to see you someday in Guilin to learn Chinese in China!

Chinese Vocabulary Related to China's Romantic Holidays

谈恋爱tán liàn'àito date
订婚dìnghūnto get engaged
结婚jiéhūnto marry
鲜花xiānhuāfresh flowers
蠋光晚餐zhú guāng wǎncāncandle lit dinner
调情tiáoqíngto flirt
帅哥shuàigēhandsome guy
美女měinǚbeautiful girl
暗恋ànliànto have a crush; to like someone in secret
告白gàobáito confess
花心huāxīnfickle; unfaithful
花花公子huāhuā gōngzǐplayboy
约会yuēhuì(go on a) date
网恋wǎngliànonline dating
来电láidiànto have chemistry with someone
吃醋chīcùto be jealous
心碎xīn suìheartbreak
七夕节QīxìjiéQixi Festival; Chinese Valentine’s Day
情人节QíngrénjiéValentine's Day (international)
白色情人节Báisè QíngrénjiéWhite Valentine’s Day
五二零节Wǔ'èrlíngjié520 Festival

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