Valentine’s Day in China

The coming Chinese New Year falls on Feb 14 this year which coincide with Valentine’s Day. Chinese New Year, traditionally known as Spring Festival, is the most major event in China. Workers and farmers who are used to work a full year will put down their work and spend the festival with the family, relatives and friends. The reunion dinner on the eve is an important occasion where family members make effort to come home to have dinner together. They are supposed to bury any acrimony with other family members during the dinner. It is similar to Thanksgiving Day when most Americans will make effort to come home for dinner with the family. There are no less than 300 million Chinese travels back to home town during the 5 days prior to the eve of the Chinese New Year. The festival starts on the first day of the first lunar month and actually ends on the 15th day. However the government gazette 3 public holidays for the festival.


Valentine’s Day is getting popular with the young generation. Roses and chocolates are favorite gifts of the young lovers. For this year, many young ones are bringing their lover back to show to their parents to win their acceptance. For those couples who are not ready to face the future “in-laws” have to go separate ways this year to spend the Valentine’s Day with their parents.


Most Chinese also celebrate the Lover’s Day on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. That day is used to commemorate the union of Cowherd (牛郎) and Weaver Lady (织女) under the folklore, Qixi (七夕), from the ancient past. The ancient Chinese astrologists had discovered that the stars, Altair which is represented by the Cowherd and Vega representing the Weaver Lady, were at the closest distance at the time of the year.


The Cowherd was a very honest and hardworking poor chap who met a fairy by a lake. The fairy was attracted to his kindness and virtue and decided to marry him and work as a weaver to supplement the income. They had two sons after few years of marriage. The Empress of the heavenly palace came to know about the case when she was making a roll call of the fairies. Furious that her fairy had violated the rule of marrying a mortal, she sent her soldiers to bring back the Weaver Lady. Not letting the heavenly palace to decide their fate, the Cowherd brought his two sons in search of his loving wife. His arduous attempt had won the hearts of many deities who then approached the Empress for forgiveness. The Empress finally gave in but allowed them to reunite only once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month. The magpies will form a bridge for the family reunion. The Cowherd carrying his two sons, which were represented by another stars, Beta Aquilae and Gamma Aquilae in the same constellation with Altair, would meet the Weaver Lady on the bridge.


Thus many lovers believe that this day denotes a Chinese Valentine’s Day. However I do not think that this day is appropriate to be used as the Lover’s Day. The story is kind of pathetic and not a good fate for lovers who wish to have long lasting companionship. The true Chinese Valentine’s Day or Lover’s Day should be on the 15th day of the first lunar month which is the last day of the Chinese New Year. Why is this so?


We need to recapture a millennium custom which was practiced by the middle class and above families. In the old days, the daughters of a well-to-do family were forbidden to step out of the house. The excuse was to protect her dignity and honor. I belief this was to prevent them from kidnapping or molest from the tyrants on the street. But they had to find a way to find husbands for their daughters. Match-making was the most common method to resolve the problem. There was another way.


The last day of the Chinese New Year, known as yuanxiao (元宵), was spent with splendor. In the evening after a sumptuous dinner, the family would go to the town center to watch fire display, operas, aerobatic performance and rows of stalls selling various kind of merchandise. The children would carry lanterns of various makes and the scholars showing their intellectual skill to break the riddles pasted on the vast colorful lanterns hanging on main buildings. This was the grand finale of the festive celebration and many of the people would crowd on the main streets to capture the events.


The daughters would get the permission from the father to attend the celebration. Thus the ladies had the opportunity to be seen and thus hopefully would attract some scholars. The scholar upon spotting a fair lady he liked would either move forward to introduce himself or trail the lady home to find out where she lived. He would then send a match-maker to her father to seek his permission for marriage.


This custom had helped many men and women to get married in the times when men and women were not supposed to have closed proximity. It was a day to find a spouse. The custom was stopped during the last regime of the Chin Dynasty when it was overwhelmed with wars, repression, uprisings and famine. Of course we do not need such a day to let boy meets girl. However we can use it to commemorate the day how our ancestors got hitched into marriage.  


    Posted on 10 Feb 2010

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