Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Happy Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year! Are you ready for yet another celebration? These festivities go on for almost a month and red is the magic colour.
This is the ‘Year of the Pig’ which symbolises wealth. In China, every year has a zodiac animal, the cycle repeats every 12 years, making it easy to figure out whether it’s your year or not. Just check your age in multiples of 12.

For the Chinese, the Spring Festival is the most important celebration of the entire year, similar to Christmas for us westerners. It marks the coming of Spring and all the excitement and joy of new beginnings. Unlike Christmas in this part of the world, Chinese New Year is a movable feast, predicated by the Lunar rather than the Gregorian calendar. Technically it’s the longest Chinese holiday, celebrated by over 20% of the world’s population – how amazing is that!

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The most significant element of the holiday is the family reunion which triggers the largest human migration in the entire world. Millions of diligent hard working people, young and old, who now live in cities, travel home to rural areas to get together with their elderly parents.

Apparently, desperate singles often resort to hiring a fake boy or girlfriend to take home to allay their parents’ concerns - continuing the family name is one of the most important elements of Chinese culture, a reason why the Chinese have such a huge population…
Lively music and dance plus copious quantities of delicious food are important elements of the festivities. There are spectacular parades in Chinatowns all over the world - traditional lion and unicorn dances, dragon parades, bell ringing and lots of fun and fireworks. Children receive gifts of red envelopes stuffed with lucky money.

The feasting and excitement will continue until the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the Chinese New Year – the first new moon of the Lunar year so you’ll see lots of red lanterns in all shapes and sizes, widely available in Asian shops, if you want to have fun and enter into the spirit….

A myriad of superstitions are attached to the New Year…People ‘spring clean’ the house on the day before Chinese New Year to sweep away bad luck and make way for good vibes.

Showering is taboo on New Year’s Day, as is throwing out rubbish. Hair cutting too is out, so hair salons are closed…
There are celebrations in Dublin, Cork, and Belfast. Cork which has been twinned with Shanghai since 2005, hosted its first Chinese New Year Festival on February 4th. Many iconic buildings around the world, including the Mansion House in Dublin and City Hall in Cork are illuminated in red to mark the beginning of Chinese New Year.

Lots of foods are associated with Chinese New Year, particularly dumplings. Spring rolls are universally loved, easy to make and when fried resemble gold bars. Each food is symbolic in some way, long noodles symbolise longevity…Citrus are also considered to be lucky.

Several festive desserts are also much loved, Tangyuan a type of rice ball, sounds like reunion in Chinese so they are favourites. As is Nian Gao, a type of rice cake which symbolises success. Fa gao – is a hybrid of a muffin and a sponge cake, the name means ‘get rich’ so everyone wants some of those too. Some of these desserts can be an acquired taste for non-Chinese but if you get an opportunity, do taste them. 

I’ve been to China several times, so I’m even more excited about Chinese New Year and am planning a little Chinese feast to celebrate.

Those who are born in the Year of the Pig, may want to check out the Chinese zodiac. Your lucky numbers are 2, 5 and 8, Lucky colours are yellow, grey, brown and gold and lucky directions are southeast and northeast…how about that….

Seek out your local Chinese restaurant, better still invite a few friends around to enjoy a home cooked Chinese meal, and don’t forget to wish our Chinese friends ‘In Nian Kuai le’ – ‘Happy New Year’.

Enjoy and Happy New Year of the - Pig the symbol of wealth.

Friday, 1 February 2019

St Brigid's Day

My year is punctuated by little highlights, occasions to look forward
to and celebrate. I particularly love St Brigid’s Day, it’s now just
around the corner, on February 1st, so I’m all set to celebrate and to
share the story of this feisty woman with my students from all over
the world and everyone else around me. This is a quintessentially
Irish celebration, St Brigid’s Day or Lá Féile Bríde also marks the
beginning of Spring, the season of hope and new life and comes
about half way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox,
when days begin to lengthen. In Pagan times it was referred to as
Imbolc or Imbolg which translates literally
to ‘in the belly’. Imbolc is one of the four major fire festivals referred
to in Irish mythology, the others are Bealtaine, Lughnasa and

Brigid, an icon for women was born near Faughart just north of
Dundalk in the 5th Century. She is the goddess of fertility in Celtic
mythology, patron saint of dairy and founded the first monastery in
Ireland in Kildare.

Many legends are associated with Brigid who by all accounts was an
extraordinary woman – a force to be reckoned with, a feminine role
model, well before her time. So I’m overjoyed that at last there is a
movement to elevate St Brigid to here rightful place beside St Patrick
as our female patron saint.

Last year, and once again this year, there will be a celebration of Lá
Féile Bríde at the Irish Embassy in London, a gathering to celebrate
not just St Brigid but the achievements of Irish women around the

Image result for st brigids cross

Just as the shamrock is associated with St Patrick, the little woven
cross, made of rushes is associated with St Brigid and was chosen as
the RTE logo when the station launched in 1961, and it was used

until 1995. Let’s bring it back and display it proudly as a beautiful
symbol of our culture.

Last year, St Brigid’s cross maker extraordinaire, Patricia O’Flaherty,
came over from Ireland clutching a bag of freshly cut rushes to
demonstrate how to make the traditional St Brigid’s cross at the Irish
Embassy in London . She
makes many versions and I was intrigued to learn from her that
originally all counties in Ireland had different patterns which
sometimes even varied from parish to parish.

To invoke Saint Brigid’s blessing we have a little cross made of local
rushes hanging over the door in our micro dairy to protect our small
Jersey herd which produces the most delicious rich milk.

My research into St Brigid, mentioned not only dairy but also honey
and the tradition of eating a big plate of floury boiled potatoes
slathered in rich homemade butter on St Brigid’s Day or St Brigid’s

So here’s a recipe for how to make your own home churned butter… It’s super easy. We use our own cream, but one can of course make
butter with any good rich cream. Just pop it into a bowl, whisk until it
becomes stiff, continue until the butter globules separate from from
the buttermilk. Strain, wash well, salt generously, and pat into little
slabs or butter balls – easy-peasy. Impressive and delicious, even for
chefs, to slather over potatoes or a thick slice of warm soda bread or
spotted dog. 
So let’s all make or buy a little St Brigid’s cross and make St Brigid’s
Day into a real celebration, sharing a traditional meal around the
kitchen table with family and friends.