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The Qixi Festival in Hong Kong – Time for a Little Romance

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Isn’t there something so happy and light about Valentine’s Day (or your country’s equivalent)? Whether you spend it each year with your lifelong partner, a new lover, or by yourself, there’s something to be enjoyed and admired in this holiday. 

But have you ever stopped to wonder why so many cultures have a special day for romance and lovers? 

In Hong Kong and Mainland China, this holiday is the Qixi Festival (though Hong Kong celebrates Western Valentine’s Day, too!). 

So what does the Chinese Qixi Festival look like? Why is it celebrated, and how? Let’s find out together.

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1. What is the Qixi Festival?

Bridge of Magpies

The Chinese Qixi Festival (also called the Seven Sisters Festival or Chinese Valentine’s Day), is a special summertime holiday dedicated to lovers—and those looking for love. Traditionally, this holiday was celebrated mainly by young women who hoped to find a good spouse by demonstrating their talents in feminine tasks (such as needlework). 

There’s a 傳說 (cyun4 syut3), or “legend,” surrounding the Qixi Festival. The Qixi Festival story is about two lovers: a lonely cowherd named Niulang and a goddess named Zhinu.

Zhinu was the seventh and last daughter of the greatest Goddess. She grew tired of her life in the heavens and went down to earth in search of fun and excitement. As you likely guessed, this is how she encountered Niulang and eventually fell in love with him. 

The two married in secret and had children together, though their happy marriage didn’t last. The Goddess found out about their relationship, and in anger, she forced the two apart by putting a silver river (the 銀河 [ngan4 ho4], or “Milky Way”) between them.

Following this tragic incident, Niulang’s cow spoke to him. The cow convinced Niulang to kill it, take its leather, and go to find Zhinu. But the river was too wide for either lover to cross. Seeing this, the magpies took it upon themselves to help the two lovers make their way back to each other. 

It’s said that once a year, Niulang and Zhinu can see each other again for one night via 鵲橋 (zoek3 kiu4), or “the bridge of magpies.” But if it rains, the magpies are unable to form the bridge, and the two lovers must remain separated for another full year! 


2. When is the Qixi Festival This Year?

The Milky Way

Each year, the Qixi Festival takes place on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. Here are the holiday’s dates on the Gregorian calendar for the next ten years.

  • 2020: August 25
  • 2021: August 14
  • 2022: August 4
  • 2023: August 22
  • 2024: August 10
  • 2025: July 31
  • 2026: August 19
  • 2027: August 8
  • 2028: July 28
  • 2029: August 16

By the way, check out Hong Kong’s Lunar-to-Gregorian conversion chart and never miss another Cantonese holiday! 

3. How the Qixi Festival is Celebrated 

A Couple under a Red Blanket on the Beach

According to tradition, Qixi Festival activities often involve young women competing against each other in a variety of handiwork tasks (all in good fun, of course). Popular tasks include needlework, sewing, and crocheting, each of which is considered a valuable talent for a potential wife to have. The women will often go to a temple and offer paper sacrifices to the Seven Sisters (Zhinu among them), pray for improved skills, and ask for a good husband.

Aside from these competitions and offerings, most Qixi Festival traditions today revolve around 愛情 (oi3 cing4), or “romance,” lending this holiday its nickname as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. Before the Qixi Festival, Hong Kong lovers and spouses might buy each other cute gifts or write love notes for each other to be presented during the festival. Qixi Festival gifts often include chocolates, flowers, and maybe even jewelry! Those who want to go above and beyond for their love may plan a romantic date night—and believe us, there will be plenty to do. From dances to laser light shows, Hong Kong is filled with activity during the Qixi Festival! 

Qixi Festival foods tend to be on the sweet side, though you’ll also find a few savory dishes. Sesame-flavored pastries, glutinous rice sticks, sugary treats that are shaped like women, and dumplings are particularly popular. You can read more about the different foods and what they symbolize on TravelChinaGuide.com

The streets of Hong Kong are rich with decorative lights and streamers for the Qixi Festival, and one can find a variety of exciting events taking place all day long (and through the night). Many people enjoy looking up at the night sky and trying to find the stars of 織女星 (zik1 neoi5 sing1), or “Vega,” and 牛郎星 (ngau4 long4 sing1), or “Altair,” which symbolize the two lovers. Between these two stars, there’s another, representing the magpie bridge. What could be more romantic than imagining the two lovers meeting amid the stars while snuggled close to your own loved one? 

    → Feeling all warm and fuzzy inside now? Check out our vocabulary list of the top 15 Love Phrases for Valentine’s Day and impress your loved one with some sweet Cantonese sentiments. 

4. A Popular Story, Indeed

Did the story of Zhinu and Niulang sound familiar to you? If so, there’s a good reason for that! 

This story has inspired similar holidays in other countries, such as the Tanabata Festival in Japan! The stories do differ a bit, as stories tend to do when passed from one culture to another, but the similarities may surprise you! 

5. Essential Qixi Festival Vocabulary

The Jade Emperor

Let’s go over some of the Cantonese vocabulary from this article! 

  • Qixi Festival – 七夕節 (cat1 zik6 zit3
  • Jade Emperor – 玉皇 (juk6 wong4
  • Zhinu – 織女 (zik1 neoi5
  • Vega – 織女星 (zik1 neoi5 sing1)
  • The bridge of magpies – 鵲橋 (zoek3 kiu4)
  • Romance – 愛情 (oi3 cing4)
  • Niulang – 牛郎 (ngau4 long4)
  • Milky Way – 銀河 (ngan4 ho4)
  • Legend – 傳說 (cyun4 syut3)
  • Altair – 牛郎星 (ngau4 long4 sing1)
  • Valentine’s Day – 情人節 (cing4 jan4 zit3)

Remember that you can visit our Cantonese Qixi Festival vocabulary list to hear the pronunciation of each word and add them to your flashcard deck for further study! 

Final Thoughts

Are you ready for a romantic date night under the stars of Vega and Altair? Or a solo adventure through the flashing, colorful streets of Hong Kong? 

We hope you enjoyed learning about the Chinese Qixi Festival with us, and that you walk away from this article knowing a little more about Cantonese culture. If you’re really into learning about this unique culture, by the way, we have a special blog archive of articles related to Cantonese culture and holidays, so be sure to check it out! 

Which Qixi Festival activities would you most like to participate in? And more importantly: What’s your favorite date night activity? Let us know in the comments! 

For more relevant content, check out these vocabulary lists on CantoneseClass101.com:

We hope to see you around! 😉

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