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Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
China marks Qixi lovers' festival
An actor performs in the opera "Milky Way Couple" in Beijing on 27 July to mark the Qixi festival
The Qixi festival celebrates a legend of thwarted lovers
Lovers in China look set for a romantic summer with a traditional Valentines festival due to take place twice.

The Qixi festival, which celebrates the thwarted love of a cowherd and a weaver, has come to be regarded as China's own Valentine's Day.

It takes place on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar, this year falling on 31 July.

But because of a leap month in the lunar calendar, Qixi will occur twice this year.

The festival's organisation committee said it is the 12th time in the past 2,000 years that people are able to celebrate the day twice in one year, the China Daily reported.

'Traditional values'

The festival is based on the tale of two young lovers separated by a goddess and turned into stars. The lovers, the stars Altair and Vega, are separated by a wide river, the Milky Way.

A mass wedding in Changchun on 30 July
Events have been held across China

But on one night each year, when the stars are at their closest point to each other, the tale says the two lovers can cross the river and be reunited.

"The Qixi festival expresses the traditional values of love in China that lovers should live to a ripe age together and be faithful to each other no matter what difficulties they encounter," said Feng Jicai of the Chinese Folk Literature and Arts Society.

While Qixi is not as commercial as the Western Valentine's date of 14 February, which is also celebrated in China, sales of flowers were up, one florist told Reuters news agency.

Matchmaking parties were held in a number of Chinese cities, including one in Nanjing which attracted more than 10,000 young people. A gate in the city was decorated with around 770,000 paper birds to mark the festival.

In the north-eastern city of Changchun, 23 couples got married in a joint wedding ceremony.

The festival is also celebrated in Japan on 7 July, where it is known as Tanabata.

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