Tanabata (Star Festival)

Tanabata (Star Festival)

Tanabata, or Star Festival, is a Japanese festival observed annually on July 7th through the month of August, with varying dates depending on the specific region. It's a celebration of two well-known deities who are celestial lovers, with roots tracing back to the year 755, when the honorary holiday was first initiated by Empress Koken.
Hikoboshi and Orihime, the Japanese deities, are represented by the stars Altair and Vega, and spend most of the year separated by the vast Milky Way. According to legend, Orihime (Vega) was the daughter of Tentei, the King of the Sky, and thus a beautiful princess, of course. Each day, she would sit on the banks of the Amanogawa River, also known as the River of Heaven, wistfully weaving stunning clothing just for her father. Amanogawa is the Japanese word for Milky Way, by the way.

Although she knew the clothing pleased her father greatly, Orihime was worried that the time spent being dear old dad's personal seamstress was preventing her from finding true love. Tentei saw his daughter's obvious unhappiness, and arranged for her to meet a fella named Hikoboshi (Altair), who worked as a cow herder on the other side of the river. When they met, the two fell madly in love with each other, which the Sky King wasn't expecting. They quickly married, and were so wrapped up in their enchantment for each other, that they both began neglecting their duties.

This resulted in the King having to repeat an outfit (tragic!) and stray cows grazing freely along the Milky Way. Tentei was so peeved that he separated the couple and forbade them from ever meeting again, which obviously devastated Orihime. Her tears softened the King a teeeeeeensy bit, and he graciously allowed his daughter to be with her beloved once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month -- someone get this guy a Best Dad in the Sky mug, amirite? Sadly, or even more so, there wasn't a bridge connecting the two banks of the river. Shocker.

So, Orihime's grief grew, as did her woeful wailing, which finally got the attention of a flock of sympathetic magpies. They decided to help the lovers reunite, building a literal bird bridge every year so Hikoboshi and Orihime can be with each other [cue swelling hearts]. However, there's a small (rather random) stipulation: if it happens to be raining on the seventh day of the seventh month, the romantic rendezvous is cancelled until next year because apparently these birds are made of sugar (or stardust) and will melt if moistened.

It's said that Tanabata originated from the Chinese festival Qixi, which is based on the story of the deity lovers. These festivals became very popular between the 17th and 19th centuries, and over time, they have steadily grown into what they are today. Some of the foods that are made for the celebration include round dough balls called Takoyaki; a fried noodles dish with cabbage and pork called Yakisoba (yes please!); savory pancakes referred to as Okonamiyaki; and Yakitori, various grilled parts of a chicken depending on the vendor.

In conjunction with consuming the scrumptious Star Festival food (nap anyone?), participants write wishes on colorful strips of paper called tanzaku paper. These rainbow colored wish strips are affixed to bamboo branches, and the branches are incorporated in the decorations that adorn homes and businesses all over Japan. I'm a visual person, so of course I Googled images for this celebration before I wrote this, and guess what? They're fun! While you do the same (because you know you want to), take a moment to reflect on the wishes you would write on tanzaku paper. Give these intentions some love - and send a little love up to Altair and Vega for their one day of debauchery while you're at it!
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