Young girls traditionally demonstrate their domestic arts, especially melon carving, on this day and make wishes for a good husband. It is also known by the following names:
- The Festival to Plead for Skills (乞巧節; qǐ qiǎo jié)
- The Seventh Sister's Birthday (七姊誕; qī jiě dàn)
- The Night of Skills (巧夕; qiǎo xī)
In late summer, the stars Altair and Vega are high in the night sky, and the Chinese tell the following love story, of which there are many variations:
A young cowherd named Niulang (Chinese: 牛郎; pinyin: niú láng; literally "[the] cowherd"), came across seven fairy sisters bathing in a lake. Encouraged by his mischievous companion the ox, he steals their clothes and waits to see what will happen. The fairy sisters elect the youngest and most beautiful sister Zhinü (simplified Chinese: 织女; traditional Chinese: 織女; pinyin: zhī nǚ; literally "[the] weaver girl", who represents the star Vega) to retrieve their clothing. She agrees to do so, but since Niulang has seen her naked, she must agree to his request for marriage. She proves to be a wonderful wife, and Niulang to be a good husband. They lived happily and had two children. But the Goddess of Heaven (in some versions Zhinü's mother) finds out that Zhinü, a fairy girl, has married a mere mortal human. She is furious and orders her to return to Heaven. (In another version, the Goddess forced the weaver fairy back to her former duty of weaving colorful clouds in the sky because she could not do her job while married to Niulang, a mortal.) Down on Earth, Niulang is very upset that his wife is gone. Suddenly, his cow begins to talk, telling him that if he kills him and puts on his hide, he will be able to go up to Heaven to find his wife. Crying bitterly, he killed the cow, put on the skin. Carrying his two children with him, he went off to Heaven to find Zhinü. The Goddess found out that he had come and was very angry. Taking out her hairpin, the Goddess scratched a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever (thus forming the Milky Way, which separates Altair and Vega).
Zhinü must sit forever on one side of the river, sadly weaving on her loom, while Niulang watches her from afar and takes care of their two children (his flanking stars β and γ Aquilae or by their Chinese names Hè Gu 1 and Hè Gu 3).
But once a year all the magpies in the world would take pity on them and fly up into heaven to form a bridge (鵲橋, "the bridge of magpies", Que Qiao) over the star Deneb in the Cygnus constellation so the lovers may be together for a single night, which is the seventh night of the seventh moon.
It is said that if it rains on the night of Qi Xi, it is the tears of Niulang and Zhinü crying at the misery of their life because the magpies will not come on a night that rains.
On Qi Xi, a festoon is placed in the yard and the single or newly married women in the household make an offering to Niulang and Zhinü consisting of fruit, flowers, tea, and facial powder (makeup). After finishing the offering, half of the facial powder is thrown on the roof and the other half divided among the young women. It is believed by doing this the women are bound in beauty with Zhinü.
Another tradition is for young girls to throw a sewing needle into a bowl full of water on the night of Qi Xi as a test of embroidery skills. If the needle floats on top of the water instead of sinking, it is believed to be an indication of the girl's being a skilled embroideress.
Two other days have, or had, romantic associations in China: Valentine's Day on February 14th, borrowed from the West, and Lantern Festival Day, on which an unmarried girl was traditionally permitted to appear in public unescorted and thus be seen by eligible bachelors. The latter no longer has such implications nowadays, however.