This friend of mine heard I was finding people to collect folklore and decided to help. He came up with several origins of traditional Chinese festivals. For this particular festival, he learned it from both the literature teacher and geography teacher in China. The two teachers had different focus on the story — the literature teacher mentioned it when studying a poem that referenced the story, while the geography teacher used a astronomical phenomena to explain the possible origin of this tale.
For story telling purpose, I changed the name of male protagonist, Niulang [meaning Cowherd in Chinese], to Altair; the name of the female protagonist, Zhinv [meaning “Weaver girl”] to Vega.
In ancient time, there lived an orphan named Altair. He was poor and had nothing except for his cow. That cow was extremely old and one day, it eventually died. That night, Altair dreamed of the cow. The cow told him to wear its skin on the day July 7th, and the skin will help him ascends to heaven. In heaven there is a river, the daughters of the Queen of heaven are having a bath there that day. The one that dresses in green would be his wife. The cow instructed Altair to hide near by, wait till they get in the water, grab her clothes and run home. Once the girl follows him to his house, she would never leave him.
Altair did what the cow told, and did come to the river of heaven on July 7th. He hided in the bushes and waited till the girl in green went into the water, grabbed her clothes and ran all the way home just as he was told. That girl did followed him to his place, demanded for her clothes back and asked why did he do that. Altair answered that he wanted to marry her, and coaxed her by praising how the earth is much better than heaven. The girl was persuaded, plus Altair himself was quite handsome himself, she agreed to marry him. She stayed on earth and started a family, weaving every day to make a living. People called her Vega.
Years had passed, Vega and Altair had a son and a daughter. One day, when Altair was working in the field, the King of heaven sent an army and captured Vega home. When Altair was back, there’re only his kids crying on the bed but Vega was no where to be found. He immediately realized what happened, put on the skin of the cow and went after Vega. When he almost caught up the army, the Queen of heaven was irritated. She pulled out her hairpin and drew a river between Altair and Vega, so that Altair could not come to rescue her. Both of them were crying so hard that the magpies heard what happened. They were moved by their love and decided to help. Hundreds of magpies linked themselves to one another and formed a bird bridge, so that Altair and Vega could step on the bridge to say goodbye. The Queen was also touched by them, so she announced that Altair and Vega could meet on this magpie bridge once a year, on every July 7th.
Thus, July 7th became a festival to celebrate the reunion of Altair and Vega and their love. On this day, girls would do needleworks, praying to be as skillful at this as Vega, as well as praying for their love.
According to my friend
‘s geography teacher, every year of this time, the Vega star rises to the highest, and the closest and the brightest star next to it is the Altair star, though they would still be divided by the galaxy. Later in August, the Vega star will head towards West and Altair star will rise to the highest point, as if the Altair is trying to chase Vega. Whether this is how this folklore came to be, or if it’s after the folklore came out people found two stars resemble them and named the stars Niulang and Zhinv, we’ll never know.