Do Chinese people celebrate Valentine’s Day on the 14th of February? Yes, indeed they do. But actually, that’s not the only day of the year for celebrating love and lovers in China. What if I told you that in China there are as many as six days of the year on which people can celebrate Chinese Valentine’s Day? That’s six days in a year when Chinese people might give each other tokens of their love, share a romantic date (浪漫约会 – làngmàn yuēhuì) together or even propose marriage (求婚 – qiúhūn). Why so many? The answer to this question is multifaceted and the subject of this article.
When is Chinese Valentine’s Day?
- February 14th – Valentine’s Day (情人节 – qíngrén jié). Celebrating the western Valentine’s Day has become a fashion among younger people in China.
- 15th Day in the Lunar Year – Lantern Festival (元宵节 – yuánxiāo jié). This is the last day of Spring Festival (also known as Lunar New Year). Today, this festival is no longer often celebrated as a Valentine’s Day, but in the historical past, Lantern Festival was the one day when young people were allowed to walk through their town unaccompanied by chaperones. They could thus meet with people of the opposite sex. You will often find this portrayed in Chinese historical TV dramas.
- March 14th – White Valentine’s Day (白色情人节 – báisè qíngrén jié). This day was invented in Japan in 1978 as a counterpart to the February 14th holiday. In Japan and other Asian countries, women traditionally give gifts to men on February 14th. White Valentine’s Day exactly one month later is the day when men return the favor to their partners. White chocolate is a favorite gift, hence the name.
- May 20th – 520 Festival (五二零节 – wǔ’èr líng jié). In Chinese Internet slang, the sound of the date – Wǔ’èrlíng– supposedly sounds like “我爱你” (Wǒ ài nǐ) – “I love you!” (a bit of a stretch, I know!). Since this day is associated with online culture, it has become a massive day for online shopping, especially for luxury and designer brands to promote their products.
- 7th Day of 7th Month in Lunar Calendar – Qixi Festival (七夕节 – qīxì jié). This traditional date for lovers has been revived in recent years as a traditional Chinese Valentine’s Day. It is probably the most commonly celebrated Chinese Valentine’s Day.
- November 11th – Single’s Day (双十一 – shuāng shíyī). The numbers of this day – 11/11 – represents single people. Around 10 – 15 years ago, this day was taken over by online shops to promote sales for people to buy gifts for lovers. By now, promotions have grown to extend to everybody, single or not. It has become the year’s biggest day of promotions and sales, similar to Black Friday but even bigger.
Which Chinese Valentine’s Day is the most traditional?
The most traditionally Chinese day for celebrating lovers is Qixi Festival (七夕节 – Qīxì jié). This festival takes place on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar (农历 – nónglì), which is why the name Qixi roughly translates into “Evening of the Sevens”. It usually falls in August – in 2023, it will be on August 22nd. This reason why this day is celebrated by lovers is based on a charming ancient Chinese legend of The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl which dates from the time of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 6 AD). Here’ the story:
The Legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl牛郎织女 (niúlángzhīnǚ)
There was once a very poor, young cowherd (牛郎 – niúláng) who only possessed a single ox. One day, he was surprised and delighted to learn that his ox was able to speak! The ox instructed the cowherd to go to the local bathing pool the next day where he would find six celestial fairy sisters (仙女 – xiānnǚ) bathing together. Niúláng indeed discovered the fairies, yet something compelled him to play a nasty trick and hide the clothes of the youngest sister (not cool!). This fairy was Weaver Girl (织女 – zhīnǚ), so known because she is the Goddess of Weaving. Without her clothes, Zhīnǚ was unable to fly back to the heavenly realm. Regretting what he had done, the Cowherd returned Weaver Girl’s clothes to her and when he did so the two of them fell passionately in love! She remained on Earth for three years and the lovers even had two children together.
But meanwhile, back in Heaven, Zhīnǚ’s parents, the Heavenly king and queen, were upset when they found out she hadn’t returned with her sisters. They sent celestial soldiers down to Earth to bring her back, wrenching her away from her young family! Niúláng’s ox spoke once again, offering his hide as a magic cape so Niúláng was able to fly up to Heaven to retrieve his wife. He carried his two children in baskets suspended from a long pole across his shoulders. Just when the family was about to be reunited, Zhīnǚ’s mother, the celestial Queen angrily used her hairpin to magically create a silver river of stars – what we now know as the Milky Way (银河 – yínhé) – thus separating the lovers. But a flock of magpies (喜鹊 – Xǐquè) flew by and took pity on the lovers. The birds swarmed together to create a bridge of magpies (鹊桥 – Quèqiáo) that spanned the Milky Way. With so many natural and supernatural forces supporting her daughter, the queen relented and allowed the magpies to recreate their bridge every year on the seventh day of the seventh month, thus permitting the lovers to reunite once a year. The two lovers can even be found in the night skies with the star “Altair” representing the Cowherd and the star “Vega”, on the opposite side of the Milky Way, symbolizing the Weaver Girl.
How do Chinese people celebrate the various Valentine’s Days in China?
Qixi Festival is becoming more and more accepted as the “real” Chinese Valentine’s Day, but that doesn’t stop people from celebrating on February 14th as well. Double the fun, right? On both days, romantic partners like to express their love, give flowers or gifts, or go out to dinner or to the cinema. It’s also a tradition for lovers to locate the stars Vega and Altair which symbolize Cowherd and Weaver Girl.
One Qixi tradition is to eat 巧果 (qiǎoguǒ), a type of sweet pastry. The character 巧 (qiǎo) in 巧果 sounds very similar to 桥 (qiáo), which means bridge, so it symbolizes the magpie bridge.
How can Chinese teachers bring Chinese Valentine’s Day traditions into their classrooms?
The Chairman’s Bao is a great place to start teaching students about Chinese Valentine’s Day traditions. You will find three lessons at various levels between HSK 1 and 4, one of which recounts the legend of Cowherd and Weaver Girl in Chinese. Be sure to take full advantage of all of the useful Chairman’s Bao features such as vocabulary flashcards, character writing practice and oral or written content testing.
You could also watch an animated video of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl legend with your class. There are many such videos designed for children to learn about Chinese traditions. A good one can be reached via this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sT-TnXavtIA.
Another video designed for Chinese learners depicts street interviews with actual Chinese people discussing their habits and opinions regarding Chinese Valentine’s Day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKn4uxip07Y. It features subtitles with Chinese and Pinyin and an English translation can be toggled on or off. The interviewer does an excellent job at coaxing the interview subjects to speak in a language that learners will understand.
If your school has cooking facilities, or even if a single cooking burner can be brought into the classroom, try making Qiaoguo pastries with your class. They’re actually quite simple, since they can be prepared on a stove and no oven is involved. Most recipes require a special qiaoguo mold to form the pastries, but here’s an example of a recipe which has adapted the process for people who don’t possess a qiaoguo mold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wN2FShcPbHk.
In addition, your class could explore the Chinese internet near the time of February 14th or QiXi Festival to see how the Chinese media portrays the celebrations.
Another idea is for your class to use the internet to check out some of the promotional advertisements you will find on online shopping sites such as Alibaba around the times of the May 20th 520 Day or the November 11/11 Singles Day. You will find many interesting sales events. Teach your class how to perform simple Internet searches using the Chinese language and then you can do some virtual shopping together.
Since China has so many Valentine’s Days, you will be able to bring this interesting topic into your classroom at several different times of the year.
An unashamed language nerd from Anchorage, Alaska, Heather’s life has led her to a degree in German and International Studies from Willamette University and a three-year stay in Taiwan with her German husband at the end of the eighties. In Taipei she took intensive Chinese courses at the Mandarin Training Center of Taiwan Normal University and also taught English at the Taipei Language Institute. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, she became intrigued by the life in a former East Bloc country and finally decided to relocate to Leipzig, Germany in 1991. There she and her husband established the FAE Fachinstitut für Angewandtes Englisch, a private English institute focusing on teaching adults, translations and language coaching. This has been a successful venture for over 30 years.