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Story Behind the Double-Seventh Day

A long long time ago, there was a poor cowherd, Niulang. His parents died when he was young, so he lived with his elder brother. Unfortunately, both his brother and sisiter-in-law were mean and cruel and treated Niulang very badly. They would not give him enough food to eat, and made him work so hard that he hardly had time to sleep. Finally, they kicked him out of their home. All he had in the world were the clothes on his back and an old ox.
Niulang built a small thatched cottage on the side of a mountain. He cut and dug and sweat until he had made a vegetable garden out of the rochy soil. He was often tired and hungry, but always found time to take care of his old ox. One day, this old ox began to talk. It said that it used to be Taurus, a proud star in the night sky. But it violated the law of the Heavenly Palace by stealing some seeds of grain to give to the world of Man. As a punishment, it was banished to this world as an ox.
Not far from Niulang's cottage was a sacred pond. The old ox told its master that several young goddesses would come to this pond in a few days to bathe. One of them would be called Zhinu,“the Girl Weaver” .Zhinu was a granddaughter of the King of the Heavenly Kingdom. Virtuous and kind, she was the most beautiful being in the whole universe. The old ox paused for a moment, then said that if Niulang could take away her clothes while she was in the sacred pond, she would stay and be his wife.
When the day came, Niulang hid in the tall reeds by the pond and did as the old ox had said, and they were deeply in love and got married. Niulang worked hard growing crops and Zhinu raised silkworms. Three years later, Zhinu gave birth to twins, a boy Brother Gold and a girl Sister Jade. The couple were overjoyed with the new additions to their family and believed they would stay happily together for the rest of their lives.
One day, the old ox was dying. Before it closed its eyes for the last time, it told the young couple that its hide would enable a man to fly even to the heavens. It asked them to preserve it carefully. Meanwhile, the Kigg and Queen of Heaven found out that their granddaughter had gone to the world of Man and taken a husband. They were furious. The Queen flew down to earth with some of her soldiers.
Niulang came back from the field one day to find his two children sitting on the ground, crying. Niulang remembered what the old ox had told him. He placed the twins in wicker baskets on a pole to carry on his shoulder, put on the magic hide, and flew up into the sky. He had almost caught up with the Queen and his wife when the Queen heard the crying of his children. Looking back, with an angry wave of her arm, a raging torrent immediately appeared between her group and Niulang. He could not get past this wide swollen river. Hearbroken, Niulang and his children could only look and weep bitterly. The King in his Heavenly Palace was moved by the sound of their crying, and decided to allow Niulang and Zhinu to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
The poor couple of Niulang and Zhinu each became a star. Niulang is Altair and Zhinu is Vega. The wide river that keeps them apart is known as the Milky Way. On the east side of the Milky Way, Altair is the middle one of a line of three. The end ones are the twins. To the southeast are six stars in the shape of an ox. Vega is to the west of the Milky Way; the stars around her form in the shape of a loom. Every year, the two stars of Altair and Vega are closest together on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

This sad love story has passed down from generation to generation. It is well known that very few maagpies are seen on the Double-Seventh Day. This is because most of them fly to the Milky Way, where they form a bridge so that the two lovers might come together. The next day, it is seen that many magpies are bald; this is because Niulang and Zhinu walked and stood too long on the heads of their loyal feathered friends.

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