In Japan, the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month is referred to as Tanabata Day. All over the country festivals are held throughout the day and into the night. What is the point of this festival though? What makes the day special aside from the cool numbering?
The history of the festival is traced back to the Heian period. The tradition is inspired by a story that was borrowed from chinese mythology. As the story goes, there was a weaving princess named Orihime and a cow herder named Hikoboshi. The father of Orihime, King Tentei, arranged for the two meet. Upon first glance, they instantly fall madly in love and get married right away. The problem began when both began to neglect their duties of weaving and cow herding. The king was outraged by their laziness and separated the two onto opposite sides of the Amanogawa River. Orihime became depressed and begged her father to let her see Hikoboshi again. The king was moved by her daughters tears and decreed that they two could meet on the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month if she worked hard all year. In the first year, Orihime was attempting to cross the river but could not find a way across. When she began crying, a group of magpies showed up and promised to build her a bridge across next year.
This story has a more literal definition when using two specific stars as the metaphor. Orihime is representative of the star Vega, who is the weaving princess. Hikoboshi represents Altair, the cowherder star. The two were separated by the Milky Way galaxy and align only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
One of the more popular traditions that happens annually at the Tanabata is the Writing of Wishes. People would write down their wishes on pieces of paper and tie them to pieces of bamboo in hopes of them coming true in the next year. More traditionally boys would wish for better handwriting and studying
If you live in a larger city in the US, you can find some things to do to celebrate this holiday and others. In Denver, the Botanic Gardens has a small celebration where you cam make a wish and tie it to Bamboo and storytelling. If I ever move to Japan someday, I would love to attend one of these festivals and experience the rich traditions that come with them!