2020, THE YEAR OF THE RAT HAPPY (CHINESE NEW YEAR) Xīnnián kuàilè 新年快樂

New Year is the most important occasion in the Chinese calendar and one we decided was well worth celebrating. Each year is named after one of the twelve signs in the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. This year (2020) marks a return to the first of all the signs – that of the rat, a creature who symbolises wealth and surplus; so, let’s hope that is a good omen for the year ahead!

Traditionally falling between January 21 and February 20, the beginning of the Chinese New Year – or Spring Festival as it is also known – is dependant on the changing moon to herald the start of the new Lunar year. This year’s festivities began on January 25, in time for our week of Chinese-themed activities.

Dating back nearly four millennia (3,800 years), the history of Chinese New Year is steeped in folklore and legend, the most popular of which concerns the mythical beast Nian: a fearsome creature who – as legend has it – ate everything in his path, leading Chinese people to leave food at their door to appease Nian by satisfying his appetite.

Although we didn’t need to worry about Nian paying us a visit, we did take the opportunity to create some wonderful Chinese food – just one of the many exciting and culturally relevant pursuits we had planned for the week.

Take a look at what we got up to…

Monday, January 27
PLANTING FLOWERS   Zhònghuā    种花

‘A bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers’ (Chinese proverb)

The peony is regarded as one of China’s most culturally significant blooms. Considered by some to be its national flower, it has an annual festival dedicated to it that takes place between April and May.

As we are fortunate to have a large single peony plant in our gardens, our gardener, Paul, dug the plant up and proceeded to split it into multiple smaller cuttings which we distributed widely. We can now look forward to their appearance later in the year.

‘A late-blooming flower is not necessarily lacking in fragrance’ (Chinese proverb)

Tuesday, January 28
PREPARING A MEAL   Zuò fàn   做饭

‘He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skills of the physician’ (Chinese proverb)

On Tuesday we were treated to a culinary masterclass in the Dining Room by our chefs Sam and Soe.

Chinese cuisine – like much of Chinese life – is imbued with the principles of Yin-Yang, a philosophy that considers everything in the universe (including food) to be composed of opposing yet complementary forces, be they hot/cold, sweet/bitter, or dry/moist.

The Chinese believe that health is encouraged through establishing the correct Yin-Yang balance in the body which can be greatly assisted by eating the right foods. With this in mind, residents watched eagerly as the evening meal was prepared before sitting down to a delicious buffet that included vegetable dumplings, prawn & chive dumplings, duck pancakes, chicken satay skewers, and chicken chow Mein, all followed by a toothsome passionfruit and mango roulade.

Tables were festooned with fortune cookies, and ‘takeaway’ boxes were on hand for those who planned to further rebalance their Yin-Yang before turning in for the night.


Wednesday, January 29
DRINKING RICE WINE   Hē huángjiǔ   喝黄酒

‘Do not drink too much or too little…. The middle course is indeed the way of the highest virtue, but its practice has long been rare among the people.’ (Chinese philosopher Confucius, on the subject of drinking)

On Wednesday, at midday, residents retired to the Drawing Room for a pre-lunch drink; but this was to be no ordinary aperitif, as oriental favourites sake and nigori were on the drinks menu.

The origins of sake are unclear, but one theory has it that the earliest production of this popular rice wine was in China circa 4,800 BC, before later spreading to Japan.

Although similar in character to Chinese yellow wine with its reported medicinal properties, sake is clear and sweet, whilst nigori – a variety of sake – is cloudier in appearance due to a different fermentation process.

But however you choose to take your sake, everyone agreed it was a delightful way to spend a lunchtime, ensconced in the comfort of a favourite armchair!


Thursday, January 30
EATING TOGETHER   Yīqǐ chīfàn   一起吃饭

‘There is no one who does not eat and drink. But few there are who really know flavour.’ (Chinese philosopher Confucius)

Community and the extended family are important to the Chinese way of life and food is at the heart of this. Communal meals bring friends and families together – crossing the generations whilst observing due respect for the elders.

At The Old Rectory we have our own sense of ‘family’ in the community we have created, and that is never more keenly felt than at mealtimes when we all come together in a shared experience – so Thursday’s themed meal was particularly enjoyable.

In a gaily decorated Dining Room, residents took their place at the table where each found a ‘lucky’ red envelope – a traditional part of Chinese New Year and one that hold special significance in Chinese culture, as the colour red is deemed to bring luck and happiness.

Inside the envelope, each guest found a personalised note outlining which Chinese zodiac character they were with its accompanying characteristics, and at each place setting was the gift of a floral fan and a fortune cookie to further set the scene.

A sumptuous meal ensued that featured a starter of melon & orange cocktail, followed by slow roasted duck and a dessert of coconut-baked custard tart or vanilla pana cotta with saffron & lemon syrup – a meal worthy of a celebration, and a tribute to our kitchen staff.

Friday, January 31
ARTS AND CRAFTS   Yìshù hé shǒu gōngyìpǐn   艺术和手工艺品

‘Aspire to the principle, behave with virtue, abide by benevolence, and immerse yourself in the arts.’
(Chinese proverb)

Some of you may have acquired your knowledge of dragons from the popular TV series Game of Thrones, but in Chinese culture, these mythical creatures are revered as a symbol of strength, power and good luck, with auspicious or people or outstanding achievers being favourably compared to them. China has a rich history in the arts, from literature and calligraphy to painting and decorative design. Therefore, what better way to round off our week than with a light-hearted craft session spent producing our own Chinese dragon masks?  It was great fun and resulted in a marvellous selection of varied and colourful designs which we eventually gave to the children of Rainbow’s End nursery on one of their regular weekly visits.  All in all, we spent an enjoyable week taking a small peek behind the curtain of a fascinating culture. Embracing another country’s way of life, and taking a walk in someone else’s shoes, can be a rewarding experience and one we are sure to repeat in the future.   In the meantime… “GONG HEI FAT CHOY”(‘Wishing you great happiness and prosperity’)