And how do we know all this? Well, when the Jade Emperor summoned all the animals, they raced to him and on the way displayed the various characteristics that we associate with them today. The snake for example was a bit sneaky, surreptitiously using the horse to cross a river but then scaring it so much that the snake beat it to the Emperor.

Rats, oxen, tigers, rabbits and dragons.

Where the animals finished determined their position in the zodiac. The snake was sixth behind the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit and dragon, and so relates to 2013 and every twelfth year i.e. 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965 and 1953. It's a good story but no one really knows the zodiac's exact origins, although the animals were officially recognized during the Han Dynasty over 2000 years ago.

Each animal is also tempered by an element, this year it is Water that previously occurred in 1953. So if you are 60 years old this year, you should be romantic, refined, insightful, a good manager, motivated by results as well as money and although affectionate to the family, it is strictly business once outside the home.

You may be judgmental, a bad loser, tell fibs and, although happy to help out, are wary of giving financial assistance. Your intuitiveness and introspection may lead to vanity and resistance to constructive advice. So not the best character reference and the nearest western sign would be Taurus.

Chinese new year with lanterns filling a street.

Spring festival

The new year heralds the Spring Festival with the largest celebrations naturally in countries with large ethnic Chinese populations. It's a time for family, firecrackers and lots of food, especially dumplings, lasting through to the new moon fifteen days later.

Hong Kong and Beijing have massive firework displays and fairs. Harbin has a famous snow and ice festival featuring various palaces, monuments and statues sculptured from ice and decorated with thousands of lights, and Shanghai's lantern festival brings an end to the celebrations. In London, there are colourful displays of acrobatics, lion dances and music together with a proliferation of dragons that symbolise strength and good luck.

Traditional flowers

Whether the refined and sophisticated snake would enjoy all this high jinx is open to question. They enjoy elegance, comfort and peace rather than bright lights and might appreciate the home decorated with flowers that have significance within Chinese culture.

The chrysanthemum will attract good luck into a home, citron or buddha's hand is another flower that is associated with happiness. Daffodils are appropriate for those seeking promotion in their careers while orchids offer beauty and prosperity.

Whether you believe all this or not, there's no denying that it's a good excuse for having a good time and exploring another culture. Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Chrysanthemums for Chinese new year.