Author: Yixuan Wu
The Qixi Festival is a traditional Chinese festival that became popular in the Tang and Song dynasties. According to folk legend, the “Weaver Girl” is the seventh daughter of 天帝 (the Emperor of Heaven). She is also known as 七仙女, or the seventh fairy and was the youngest out of all seven of the Emperor’s daughters. The legend states that 牛郎和织女, or the “Cowherd Boy” and “Weaver Girl”, will meet at the heavenly magpie bridge on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunisolar calendar to have their annual date. In this context, the cow herder means an ordinary man while a weaver girl means the heavenly fairy (“What is Qixi?”).
Figure 1: The cow herder meeting the fairy
In Southern Fujian culture, the "Seven Fairies'' are not just fairies, but seven goddesses, commonly known as 七个娘妈 or, "Qigeniangma'' (the seven fairy godmothers). Qixi Festival is the birthday of 七娘妈 (the seventh fairy godmother) or "Qiniangma''. Qiniangma was a beautiful, kind and loving woman, therefore becoming the symbol of all the best qualities that a woman can have. She was viewed as the protector of children, known to bring empathy and warmth to the world. This is why a significant number of the Southern Fujianese are accustomed to worshipping Qiniangma on the date of the Qixi festival in the year of the first birthday of their children. At the age of sixteen, as children reach adulthood, they must be baptized in front of the portrait Qiniangma, thereby becoming free of the blessings of Qiniangma as they venture off into the world on their own. During each Qixi Festival, the Southern Fujianese people will prepare tributes to worship "Qiniangma '', and pray for good luck for the children. The tributes may include fruits and vegetables, sugar kuih, filled wine bottles, chopsticks, as well as female rouge, pollen, scissors, red hair rope etc (''The Qixi Customs of Minnan '').
Figure 2: Mannequins of the 七个娘妈 (Qigeniangma)
There are many Southern Fujianese legends regarding the origins of the Qixi Festival. The one about Qiniangma is just one of many. Another very popular explanation of the Qixi Festival was the love story between the seventh fairy and 凡人, or “ordinary man” 董永 (Dongyong). In this story, the seventh daughter of the Emperor of Heaven fell in love with Dongyong. This in turn enraged the Emperor as it was considered inappropriate for fairies to love ordinary men. The Emperor eventually set the rule of only allowing the couple to meet every seven days and that they must stay separated at all other times. After he asked a magpie to convey this order to the couple, however, the magpie ended up mistaking “meeting every seven days” for “meeting on July 7th every year”. The Emperor later decided to punish the magpie by forcing it to build a heavenly bridge made of its magpie friends between the couple on every July 7th to help them meet. This day in turn, became known as “Chinese Valentine's Day”, or Qixi. In the present day, after their worship of Qiniangma, the Southern Fujianese would prepare a bag of glutinous rice and toss it onto the roof of their houses. This is to reward and acknowledge magpies for their hard work in building the bridges between couples (“The Qixi Customs of Minnan '').
Figure 3: Statue of the seventh fairy and Dongyong (Qigeniangma)
As the date of the Qixi Festival approaches, a series of sedan chairs painted with the seventh fairy can be seen in the streets of the Southern Fujianese city of Quanzhou. The people of Quanzhou also have the custom of hanging the “Qiniang lantern”. It is an oblong lantern that shines through the picture of the seventh fairy painted on the lampshade with a bunch of colorful flowers dangling from it. If there was a child born in any family or a newly married couple, the Qiniang lanterns would be hung at the beginning of the seventh month of the lunar calendar as an omen for 早生贵子 or “early birth of a healthy child”. It is also the custom of the Qixi Festival to eat Tang Kueh, a ball made with glutinous rice flour. The ball is oblate and concave in the middle, symbolic of a dimple on a girl's face, intending to wish couples to smile when they are with each other. Sometimes peanut kernels and sugar are sprinkled on top of the cooked Tang Kueh, making it taste more crisp and elastic at the same time (“The Qixi Customs of Minnan '').
In hopes of living a healthy and safe life, the Southern Fujianese see significant importance in celebrating the traditional festival of Qixi. Their set of unique customs and traditions has been and will be passed on from one generation to the next.
About the author
Yixuan Wu is currently a student at International School Manila in Taguig City who wishes to pursue his goal of going to the US for college. Although a full Chinese in blood, he has lived in the Philippines for most of his life and has interacted and befriended many people of the Lannang heritage. He has been entrenched with creative writing exploring topics such as culture, identity and heritage. He would like to help increase the awareness and interest in the preservation of the Lannang heritage by helping with the online publications, and also through creating content for videos that helps to inspire other people. When he is neither writing nor rushing school work, he would either explore different genres of music or just chat with friends.
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