Tanabata literally translates (直訳) as “The evening of the seventh”, but is often called the Star Festival (星祭り) in English.
It is based on the Chinese Qixi Festival and celebrates the meeting of 2 divine (神聖な) lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi (“the weaver girl” – 織り手 – and “the cowherd” – 牛飼い – in the original Chinese story).
These characters are represented by the stars Vega (ベガ) and Altair (アルタイル). In the story of Tanabata these lovers are separated by the Milky Way (天の川) and are only allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month.
In modern Japan the most common way of celebrating the festival is for people to write their wishes on strips of colourful paper (短冊), which are then hung (つるされる) on a bamboo (笹) “wish tree” with other decorations. You can see these decorations in many different places like schools and shopping arcades.
Every year we display a small bamboo tree at our school and ask students from the kids classes to write their wishes. The wishes are usually about what the students want to be in the future and this year there were many interesting jobs, including a midwife (助産師), a dolphin trainer (イルカ調教師) and a YouTuber(ユーチューバー). Other wishes included wanting to get rid of hay-fever (花粉症を治す) and wanting to be taller (もっと背が高くなりたい).
For me Tanabata is interesting because we can see the same stars in the UK as in Japan, and we also decorate trees at Christmas time which creates a similar atmosphere.