Feeding birds who stay in this country over the cold winter months benefits both your feathered visitors and your garden. Nathan James Dodd describes how to encourage these visitors with bird feeders and specialist bird food.
Chinese New Year falls on Sunday February 10th this year, 2013 and it is the year of the Snake, the last year of the snake was 2001. It is a celebration where many gifts are exchanged.
It is the most traditional of the Chinese holidays and in China itself is known as the Spring Festival, the reason that Chinese New Year falls on differing dates every year is because the Chinese calendar is Lunisolar and some people call it Lunar New Year because of this. It will fall between January 21st and February 20th of each year.
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2013 is the Year of the Snake. But don't be unduly concerned if you suffer from ophiophobia. Not a lot of people know what it is and Snakes aren't all bad anyway. Someone coming into the world this year might be cunning, quick to anger and possessive but they will excel at business and will always be able to provide for you.
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.
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.
The Chinese New Year is obviously celebrated in China, but also countries and places with considerable Chinese populations like Hong Kong for example and Chinatowns worldwide like Manhattan and Sydney, which are quite large Chinatowns.
It is a massive celebration in China and people will celebrate in different ways, for example some will spend plenty of money on gifts, food and decorations and others will cleanse their house completely to make way for good luck. It is also a time for everyone to make up with one another and forget their grudges, wishing each other good fortune and happiness.
The colour Red is very dominant during this celebration and the reason lies within the tale of the Mythical beast called the Nian. The tale says that this mythical creature would come on the first day of new year every year to eat crops, livestock and children but the Nian was once scared of a child wearing red, therefore this colour was adopted with people hanging red lanterns to scare away the beast and has dominated the festival ever since.
Traditionally on Chinese New Year's Eve families will gather together for a reunion celebration feast which will usually be held at the most senior family members home. It is a big feast where foods such as pork, chicken, dumplings, leek and fish are consumed.
Red envelopes are handed out to children by adults and normally contain money, varying from a couple of pounds to hundreds of pounds, but always of even numbers as per tradition as odd numbers of money is given at funerals. In China odd or even is determind by the first digit, not the last so 70 would be odd as opposed to 60 which is even.
Fireworks are a big part of Chinese New Year as they were used to ward away evil spirits in Ancient China, you will usually find yourself deafened by the noise of firecrackers during the festival, especially in China itself.
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.
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!
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With gardens becoming smaller, neighbours closer and roads busier, we all suffer from different types of noise pollution. But, as Andy Taylor reports, Forest have now come up with a new kind of fencing that minimizes this nuisance.
Although gardening activity in February may not be so frenetic as during the summer months, there's still plenty to be done and Spring is just around the corner. Nathan James Dodd suggests the jobs you should be tackling in the garden this month.
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