Seventh Goddess' Day / Tsat-je - Romantic Love Story of Orphaned Cowherd and Princess of Heaven
Seventh Goddess' Day is on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month in the Chinese calendar. It is about the love story of the 7th daughter of Emperor of Heaven and an orphaned cowherd.
Today the Seven Goddess' Day is not really celebrated much -- even when it falls on a Sunday you won't see many people celebrating as such though I'm sure some romantic couples will use it as an excuse for a nice date!
The 7th Daughter of Emperor is a good weaver and so she is often referred as the Weaving Maid. The orphaned cowherd however has nothing but an ox which was actually an immortal from the Heaven.
One day, the ox told the cowherd to the brook where he can find his love. The cowherd went there and saw 7 pretty daughters of Emperor come down to have a bath. He was in love with the youngest one and the prettiest one and he hid away her fairy clothes. Without the fairy clothes, the weaving maid can't go back. Also, she has fallen in love with the cowherd too. So the two got married and they had 2 children.
One day, the old ox was dying and asked the cowherd to keep his hide.
The family had a happy life until the Emperor wanted his 7th princess back. The weaving maid had no choice but followed her grandmother to heaven. The cowherd wore the ox hide with 2 children in the basket and followed. The Emperor was not pleased and ordered that they should be separated. They are allowed to meet only once a year on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. The magpies were moved by their true love and the birds formed a bridge for the couple to meet every year.
Another name of this festival is '乞巧' which means wishing to be pretty or skilful. Traditionally, Tsat-Je is a festival for ladies, especially young ladies. There are old records about ladies making wishes when they see the bird bridge. Unmarried girls wish to become prettier or have a good marriage. Married young ladies wish to have more sons (sons are much more preferable in Chinese culture for boy carry the blood and family name onwards). Some may ask for wealth and longevity. But you are allowed to make one wish only.
People believed that the goddess was also in charge of the growth of fruit. One day before the festival, all girls went vegetarian and clean themselves thoroughly. Offerings like flowers, tea, wine, fruit, longan (a kind of fruit), peanut and dates were prepared. On that day, they prayed to the goddess. When finished, they drink the tea, eat the food and play games. All girls will try to thread 7 needles under the moonlight. Whoever does well in the game is considered their wishes fulfilled.
Another game involves leaving an empty bowl in the courtyard to collect dew water. Next day afternoon, the girls will drip a needle in the bowl. Various shapes of the needle's shadow explain whether their wish is fulfilled or not.
Later on, there are practices like untying the colour thread on the pockets made on Dragon Boat Festival / Tuen Ng. Children tied grains on the thread and threw it to the roof top so that the magpies were well fed before they set off to make a bridge for the goddess and cowherd.
Some villagers even kill the cocks so that no cocks roost in the early morning and the couple in the heaven can be together forever.
This is a poem written in Sung dynasty about this story:
宋代崔顥 << 七夕 >>
長安城中月如練, 家家此夜持針線, 仙裙玉佩空自知, 天上人間不相見o
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