很久以前，有一个跟着哥嫂过活的孤儿，既聪明又勤快，可嫂嫂仍嫌弃他，天不亮就赶他上山放牛，大家都叫他牛郎。几年后，哥嫂和牛郎分了家，狼心的嫂嫂只给他一间破茅房、一头老牛。从此，牛郎白天放牛、砍柴，晚上就和老牛同睡在那间破茅房内。一天，牛郎赶牛走进了一片陌生的树林，这里山青水秀、鸟语花香。牛郎见到九个仙女驾着祥云落在河的草地上，然后脱去五彩霓裳，跳进清澈见底的河水里，牛郎盯着一个最年轻是美丽的仙女看入了神，这时老牛突然说话了：“她是天上的织女，只要拿走五彩霓裳，她就会做你的妻子。”牛郎悄悄地沿着树从，悄悄拿走了织女的五彩霓裳。天近午时，其他仙女纷纷穿起五彩霓裳，驾着祥云而去。唯独找不到五彩霓裳的织女留下了。这时，牛郎从树后走出，请求织女做他的妻子。织女见牛郎忠厚老实，勤劳健壮，便脉脉含羞地点了点头。 牛郎织女喜结良缘后，男耕女织，互敬互爱。两年后，织女生下一男一女。然而天帝闻知织女下嫁人间，勃然大怒。七月初七，王母奉旨带着天兵天将捉了织女。悲痛欲绝的牛郎在老牛的帮助下，用萝筐挑着儿女追上天去。眼看追上了，王母拔下金簪一划，牛郎脚下立刻出现一条波涛汹涌的天河。 肝肠寸断的织女和肩挑儿女的牛郎，一个在河东一个在河西，遥望对泣。哭声感动了喜鹊，霎时无数的喜鹊飞向天河，搭起一座鹊桥，牛郎织女终于可以在鹊桥上相会了。王母无奈，只好允许牛郎织女每年的七月初七在桥上相会一次。
Chinese Valentine''s Day
Raise your head on August 4 and gaze at the stars, you will find something romantic going on in the sky.
VALENTINE''S Day in China, the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, falls on August 4 this year.
That is, on Monday evening, Niu Lang and Zhi Nu will meet on a bridge of magpies（鹊桥） across the Milky Way（银河）. Chinese grannies will remind children that they would not be able to see any magpies on that evening because all the magpies have left to form a bridge in the heavens with their wings.
The legend has been handed down for nearly 2 millennia. The story has been recorded as far back as the Jin Dynasty (256-420 AD). Poets composed hundreds of verses on the love story and many types of Chinese opera tell the story.
The Chinese people believe that the star Vega（织女星）, east of the Milky Way, is Zhi Nu and, at the constellation of Aquila（天鹰座）, on the western side of the Milky Way, Niu Lang waits for his wife.
Zhi Nu was said to be the youngest of seven daughters of the Queen of Heaven. With her sisters, she worked hard to weave beautiful clouds in the sky, while Niu Lang was a poor orphan cowherd, driven out of his home by his elder brother and his cruel wife.
Niu Lang lamented over his lonely and poor life with an old cow, his only friend and companion. The magical cow kindly told him of a way to find a beautiful and nice woman as his life companion.
Under the direction of the cow, Niu Lang went to the riverside on an evening, where the seven fairies slipped out of their heavenly palace to bathe.
He took one of the beautiful silk dresses the fairies had left on the bank. When the fairies left the water, the youngest couldn''t find her clothes and had to see her sisters fly back to heaven without her.
Then Niu Lang came out with the dress and asked the youngest fairy, Zhi Nu, to stay with him.
Several years passed on Earth, which were only a few days in heaven. Niu Lang and Zhi Nu lived happily together and had two children before the Queen of Heaven discovered Zhi Nu''s absence.
She was so annoyed she had Zhi Nu brought back to heaven. Seeing his beloved wife flying in the sky, Niu Lang was terrified. He caught sight of the cowhide hanging on a wall. The magical cow had told him before dying of old age: "Keep the cowhide（牛皮） for emergency use."
Putting the cowhide on, he went after his wife with his two children.
With the help of the cowhide, Niu Lang was able to follow Zhi Nu into heaven. He was about to reach his wife when the Queen showed up and pulled off her hairpin to draw a line between the two. The line became the Silver River in heaven, or the Milky Way.
Zhi Nu went back to the heavenly workshop, going on weaving the clouds. But she was so sad, and missed her husband across the Silver River so much that the clouds she weaved seemed sad. Finally, the Queen showed a little mercy, allowing the couple to meet once every year on the Silver River.
One of the most famous poems about the legend was written by Qin Guan of in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
Fairy Of The Magpie Bridge
Among the beautiful clouds,
Over the heavenly river,
Crosses the weaving maiden.
A night of rendezvous,
Across the autumn sky.
Surpasses joy on earth.
Moments of tender love and dream,
So sad to leave the magpie bridge.
Eternal love between us two,
Shall withstand the time apart.
(Translated by Kylie Hsu)
Compared with love stories in Western legends, the story of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu seems not as intense or passionate. Love doesn''t kill or break up the barrier between them. They just wait patiently on the riverbank, believing that their love can withstand their time apart.
It is faith and emotional liaison instead of physical attraction and desire that is emphasized in the story as well as in many other Chinese folktales（民间故事） about love.
In only a few Chinese folk love stories can be found a description of the physical appearances of the hero and heroine.
In the "Butterfly Lovers", the heroine, dressed as a boy to attend school, falls in love with a classmate. After they have lived together as classmates for years, the hero did not have the slightest clue that his best friend is actually a girl!
The seventh day of the seventh lunar month is the only Chinese festival devoted to love in the Lunar calendar.
Unlike St. Valentine''s Day in Western countries there is not so much emphasis on giving chocolates, flowers and kisses. Instead, Chinese girls prepare fruits, melons and incense（熏香） as offerings to Zhi Nu, the weaving maiden, praying to acquire high skills in needlecraft（裁缝）, as well as hoping to find satisfactory husbands.
In the evening, people sit outdoors to observe the stars. Chinese grannies would say that, if you stand under a grapevine, you can probably overhear what Zhi Nu and Niu Lang are talking about.
On that night, unmarried girls prayed to the Weaving Maid star for the special gift. When the star Vega was high up in the sky, girls performed a small test by placing a needle on the water's surface: If the needle did not sink, the girl was considered to be ready to find a husband. Once a year, on this day, girls could wish for anything their hearts desired.
这里“乞巧”的这个“乞”，我们可以说beg，也可以用plead这个词，plead to be endowed with perfect sewing skills. 貌似这两个词都和浪漫气氛不符哦，plead其实更常见于法庭上，律师为某人辩护，就是plead one's case；而那句我们耳熟能详的“不认罪”，则是plead not guilty，反之“认罪”就是plead guilty——注意这里的用法，比较特殊哦，是在动词plead后面直接加形容词guilty——法官就会经常问这句话：Do you plead guilty or not guilty？你可认罪？（好有包大人的风范啊~）
回到七夕乞巧的风俗吧，乞巧是为了精进自己的女红手艺，女红（注意啊注意啊，这里的“红”读音是“工”，不要读错了哦）也就是针线活，用英语说就是doing needlework。印象中女红活儿就是刺绣（embroider）吧，不知道现在还有多少女孩子会刺绣活儿呢？似乎大家都更prefer简单易学的十字绣 （cross-stitch）了。那么，学十字绣的话，也是需要乞一下巧的吧……
至于祈求姻缘，这个恐怕还是要看缘分哦，如果两个人是predestined to be together，那么是无论如何都会相遇并相爱的吧。在这里祝天下有情人终成眷属吧！（All shall be well, and Jack shall have Jill!）