Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. In 2014 it will fall on Friday 31 January, and it's the year of the Horse.
Many legends exist that tell how the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac came to be. My favourite is the story that all 12 animals wanted to be leader of the pack. The only way to settle it was to race across the river, with the first to reach the other side becoming leader. They jumped in and swam as fast as they could towards the other side. Each year was named after each animal in the order in which they finished: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog and pig. In actual fact the ox would have been first, but the cunning rat sat on his back and jumped off onto the opposite bank just before they arrived and therefore won the race!
Unlike the western horoscope which is used for fortune telling, the purpose of the Chinese horoscope is to provide information about a person's character and talents.
People born in the year of the Horse are recognised in the Chinese people's ethos as making constant efforts to improve themselves. They're energetic, active, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able.
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, with the 15th day called the Lantern Festival. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are traditionally celebrated as family affairs, with food as the main focus. Chinese families will prepare their meal over many days – the tremendous amount of food prepared was meant to symbolise abundance and wealth for the household. If you'd like to join in the celebrations, here are some tips to make it authentic.
Clean the house before the new year starts (a bit like a spring clean), and make sure you sweep toward the middle of the house so that you don't sweep out any of the family luck. This John Lewis Brooklyn dustpan and brush set will cheer up chores and store away easily.
On the first day of the new year, 'jai' (vegetarian meals) are believed to ensure long and happy lives. A wok is essential for creating tasty stir fries, like this Jamie Oliver by Tefal Hard Anodised Wok that delivers professional quality and includes Tefal’s innovative ‘thermo spot’ heat indication, and comes with a non-stick coating lifetime guarantee. This John Lewis Classic Universal Steamer is also handy for steaming vegetables like broccoli – it will fit any size saucepan you already have.
The big feast takes place on the second day, where along fish and chicken are eaten along with stir fries. Both tend to be presented whole to represent togetherness, abundance and prosperity. Use a fish poacher as its shape makes it so much easier to cook the fish. Noodles are also served, and should be left uncut as they represent long life.
Many Chinese families swear by an electric rice cooker! This Tefal RK302E15 8-in-1 Multi-Cooker is just the job and has both white and brown rice settings, and also has settings for oatmeal porridge, slow cooking, steaming and even one for desserts! Always rinse the uncooked rice before adding the same volume of water above the rice (so you should have an inch of water above an inch of rice), and hey presto, perfectly fluffy rice every time.
Table linen creates a sense of occasion, especially at Chinese New Year. These House by John Lewis Woven Placemats in blue for accessorisation. For dinnerware, the John Lewis Oriental tableware range is a celebration of Oriental cuisine, it’s stylish, contemporary and guaranteed to impress. This range is made up of smart porcelain pieces that you can mix and match with your everyday china and more specific Oriental serve pieces, such as soy sauce bottle, lazy susan, rice spoon and chopstick rest for your chopsticks that will add that extra authenticity to your table.