Sunday, July 07, 2013

Tanabata - Star Festival

In Asia, there is a celebration in Summer that is the equivalent of western Valentine's Day. It's the Star Festival, or Tanabata in Japan, and it honors the two stars in the summer sky... Altair and Vega.

As the legend goes, Altair was the beautiful young seamstress who fell in love with Vega, the cow herder. They were so obsessed with their desire for each other that their work suffered, leading their employer to separate them by a river in the sky... like the Milky Way. However, on the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month (lunisolar calendar), they were allowed to be with each other. Lovers express their desire for each other; gifts are exchanged. They write notes containing their deepest wishes and secret hopes, and tie the papers to trees, where the summer breeze carries their hopes to the cosmos.

The original date was based on the Japanese lunisolar  calendar, which is about a month behind the Gregorian calendar we currently use.  So the festivals happen all over the place, starting July 7th, some happening on August 7th, up to this year's actual date which is August 13th.

Photo by Benjamin Robins
Since the stars come out at night, the celebration is held at night.  One of the ways people celebrate Tanabata is by writing wishes on a long thin piece of paper, called a tanzaku, then hung on bamboo.  These wishes are floated on the river and burned at the end of the festival.  Some regions float lanterns or leaves on the river.  And in Osaka, they floated 50 thousand blue LED "wish" balls down their river.  I think this needs to go on the bucket list.  So beautiful - watch: