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Chinese girls observe ancient custom ahead of Qixi
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Dressed in traditional Chinese robes, holding incense and with threaded needles - girls observed the ancient custom of the Qixi Festival, known as the Chinese Valentine's Day, in modern Beijing.

More than 30 girls gathered in a park to practice needlework and display their hand-made Hanfu, the traditional costumes, as the ancient girls did more than 2,000 years ago.

"We did this not for fun but to preserve our traditional culture in the modern society," Zhang Yifei, a university student, said at the ceremony.

China's Qixi Festival, on the seventh day of the seventh month according to the lunar calendar, is based on a love story of a cowherd and a fairy seamstress.

Niulang, the cowherd, fell in love with a beautiful fairy Zhinu when grazing his cow. But their love was interfered with by Wangmu, wife of the Jade Emperor, the Supreme Deity in Taoism. She separated the couple by drawing a river, the Milky Way, with her hairpin between them.

Touched by their love, magpies come in flocks every Qixi to form a bridge spanning the galaxy with their bodies so that the couple can meet.

To many Chinese people, Qixi was celebrated as the "lovers' day."

"We, however, regard it as an exclusive festival dedicated to girls," said Wang Jing, 26, whose hand-made robe won the first prize at the needlework competition.

"According to the tradition, girls prepared fruit and incense as offerings to Zhinu on Qixi, praying to acquire skill in needlecraft on that day."

The Qixi Festival, which was listed as an intangible cultural heritage in 2006, has regained great popularity among the Chinese, especially the young.

"The rejuvenation of the festival can be attributed to two reasons," said Xiao Fang, a folklore professor at Beijing Normal University.

"First, it is a natural response to the challenges of Western festivals, such as the Valentine's Day and Christmas. Secondly, people need special occasions to channel their affections so they want such a festival to socialize."

This year, the festival falls on August 7, only one day ahead of the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, which gives special meanings to the traditional festival, Xiao said.

(Xinhua News Agency August 7, 2008)

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