Monday, August 16, 2010

Reunited For a Night

Magnet # 319: Chinese Girl with Fan

Material: Clay

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

This little lady looks like she's all dressed up for the Qixi Festival, which is going on today in China. It's basically their version of Valentine's Day and it's being celebrated in Asian communities the world over right now.

The Qixi Festival is derived from a legend about a young cowherd named Niulang and a fairy weaver named Zhinu. One day, he and his ox came upon Zhinu and his sisters while they were bathing in a lake. Niulang's ox goaded him into stealing the girls' clothes and when they realized their predicament, they sent Zhinu to fetch their clothes, as she was the youngest. But as the cowherd saw her naked, the pair agreed to marry and they lived in contentment for a time, having two children. Unfortunately, the Goddess of Heaven, or perhaps Zhinu's mother, discovered the union and took her back into Heaven to continue weaving colorful clouds. When Niulang realized his wife was gone, he was devastated but his ox helped him once again, telling his master to kill him and use his hide to travel into Heaven and find his wife. Niulang did so, taking his children along to find their mother. But when the Goddess of Heaven realized they were coming, she scratched a wide river in the sky- which came to be known as the Milky Way - with her hairpen to keep the couple apart. They seemed doomed to spend all of eternity apart, but the magpies of the world took pity on them and began to fly into Heaven once a year on the seventh night of the seventh moon to form a bridge that the lovers could cross so they could spend the night together. And this has come to be known as the Qixi Festival in the couple's honor. It's funny, as the celebration has gained more attention, three villages in China have begun waging a war as to which one was the setting for the fairytale - Heshun in Shanxi province, Yiyuan in Shandong province, and Lushan in Henan province all claim that honor is theirs. Some even say that they have landmarks that are featured in the story. It's been pointed out that the argument is a little silly and it's impossible to prove just where this tale originated, but the ages old debate has raised awareness for each of the locales, bringing in more tourists and businesses. And I guess a trip to any of them would be a great way to celebrate the Qixi Festival.

This particular event has undergone some changes in the many years it has been observed. When it first began, it was a special day for young Chinese girls like the one on this magnet. Back then, it was known as the "Daughter's Festival" and the single or newly married participants would offer gifts of fruits, flowers, tea, facial powder and pastries in the hopes of gaining a clever mind, an important part of being a good wife and mother in ancient times. They also wish for a good husband. Once the offering was finished, half of the facial powder would be thrown on the roof and the rest would be shared by the young women of the household in the hopes that they would share in Zhinu's beauty. Also, as Zhinu was a weaver, they engaged in needlework and weaving competitions and carved melons. And one more unusual tradition was for the girls to throw needles in a bowl of water. Most would sink, but if one floated, it meant the girl who threw it was a skilled embroideress. Unfortunately, as Valentine's Day has spread across the globe, it has had an effect on the Qixi Festival, changing it into yet another holiday for lovers. In fact, many now call it Chinese Valentine's Day. And some in China choose to celebrate Valentine's Day over the Qixi Festival. And Asian transplants in Ireland celebrate it by having the women take their men out for the night. But Asian experts agree that they would like to see this observance return to its roots and become less commercialized. And it would be nice if it were able to become more popular once again. Regardless, the Qixi Festival will go on today in China and around the world, albeit in its new form. I hope in the years to come it will be able to revert more to its original traditions. It's a shame to loose this holiday that had its own unique and special traditions, and perhaps by becoming closer to what it once was, it can regain some of its popularity.

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