Tanabata (meaning Evening of the Seventh) is a Japanese star festival with it’s origins in the Chinese Qixi Festival. The festival celebrates the meeting of the dieties Orihime and Hikoboshi (And we know them as the stars Vega and Altair in Astronomy). Legend goes that the Milky Way separates these lovers, but there is a break in that prison in that they are allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. This celebration’s date varies from region to region and is held in July or August.
The legend of the deities meeting is a beautiful tale, here is the legend:
Orihime (Weaving Princess) was the daughter of Tentei, the Sky King (King of the Universe, itself). She always wove the most beautiful clothes every day by the bank of the river Amanogawa (Milky Way). She was lonely and wanted a man in her life and Tentei, worried for her, arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (Cow Herder) that lived on the other side of River Amanogawa. It was love at first sight for the two and they married soon after.Of course sometimes when people get married they… neglect their duties and Hikoboshi’s cows started to stray all over heaven and Orihime would no longer weave cloth.
Tentei became very angry and punished the two lovers by separating them across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime was distraught and begged her father relentlessly to meet with her Hikoboshi again. Tentei was moved by this and decided that they can meet each other on the seventh of the seventh month if she worked hard and finished her weaving.
But the first time these two love birds wanted to meet, there were no bridge for them to cross the river. Orihime cried and a flock of Magpie birds came and helped her by making a bridge with their wings to help her cross the bridge.
Another part of the legend goes that when it rains the Magpies cannot come and the poor lovers must wait another year to meet.
The Japanese celebrate this festival by writing their wishes on tanzaku (colourful small strips of paper). They then hang these on bamboo trees with other decorations like streamers and variously coloured origami. It is quite pretty and looks like a summer Christmas tree in a way.
Here is a video about Tanabata that is quite interesting: http://goo.gl/qA9ZV9
The poet Allen Simpson also wrote a poem about Orihime, here is the link: http://goo.gl/fkncSa