Lights, food and family: Celebrating Chinese New Year

Image credit: Toa55 via iStock

This year, Chinese New Year falls on Friday February 16th, which will mark the start of the Year of the Dog. People who are born in this year are believed to share traits with dogs, such as loyalty, intelligence and persistence.

Whatever your heritage, Chinese New Year is a wonderful date to celebrate, as it presents a chance to learn about a different culture and its fascinating traditions. So, from fun crafty projects to tasty grub, here's a few ideas for how you can welcome in the Year of the Dog at home.

Make elegant paper lanterns

Lights and lanterns traditionally form a big part of Chinese New Year, with a Lantern Festival typically marking the end of the celebrations on the 15th day of the lunar year - in 2018, this will fall on Friday March 2nd.

Your local area might hold a lantern parade, a beautiful sight of lights bobbing through the streets, or you might just want to make some Chinese-style lanterns of your own to hang in your garden for the evening.

If you're doing this with kids, make sure you've got plenty of bright coloured paper, as well as glitter and sequins for them to decorate their creations with. But if you're just doing them yourself for a bit of fun, using just red will be properly in keeping with Chinese traditions, as the colour represents good luck, while a gold card lining will add an extra touch of elegance.

Image credit: BookyBuggy via iStock

Simply place your pieces of card on top of each other and score indentations along them, leaving a gap of a few centimetres at either end. You'll then need to cut into these lines in order to create gaps for the light to shine through. Bring the ends of the card together so they meet in the middle and use tape or glue to stick the lantern in place, and tease out the cuts you've made to finish your lantern.

Creative dragon masks

Dragons are also a big part of Chinese New Year celebrations, with giant depictions of the mythical creature often featuring in parades, as the dragon is believed to symbolise power and strength.

Making dragon masks for the occasion is a brilliant way to keep little ones amused for a few hours on a rainy afternoon. Get all of your craft supplies out, including feathers, glitters, brightly coloured felt tip pens, pipe cleaners, pom poms and sequins - the more extravagant the masks, the better.

You'll be able to find mask templates online to trace and cut out, then all you'll need to do is decorate them. Chinese dragons are typically very bright and colourful, so this is a great opportunity to let the kids' creativity shine.

Lights and lanterns traditionally form a big part of Chinese New Year

Prepare a Chinese banquet

Food is one of the main aspects of China's culture that has entered into the western mainstream, with spring rolls, prawn toast, pork dumplings, sweet and sour sauce, stir fries and crispy duck just a few of the UK's favourite Chinese dishes.

Serving up a few of these for a Chinese New Year dinner would be a lovely way to mark the occasion. You might think Chinese dishes seem complicated with so many flavours and a different style of cooking, but some are so simple that you can easily put them together after a day at work.

Image credit: thesomegirl via iStock

Take spring rolls for example. All you need is edible rice paper or sheets of ready-made filo pastry. Cut out wide rectangles and place diced vegetables cooked in chilli, ginger and soy sauce on top; you could add a little mince too if you eat meat. Roll up your parcel into a little tube shape and bake in the oven for around ten minutes, or until crispy. Simple, but delicious, and perfect as a starter or for dipping into any leftover sauce from your main course.

For the main event, few Chinese dishes are more popular in the west than sweet and sour sauce, served with either chicken or pork and egg fried rice or stir-fried noodles. To make your own version, fry your meat with spring onions, stem ginger, chillis and a pepper, then pour in a carton of passata, add chicken stock and soy sauce and leave to simmer. When the sauce has reduced down, pop in a few pineapple chunks for just a few minutes. This 'fakeaway' version of the much-loved dish is much fresher, healthier and less greasy than a takeaway too.

Setting the table

To accompany your Chinese banquet, you'll need a beautifully set table to add to the celebratory atmosphere. A red and gold table runner will be in keeping with the theme, and if Chinese superstitions are to be believed, it should bring you and your family luck for the following year too.

Another tradition - to bring extra good fortune - is to place a small red envelope at each person's seat that contains a few coins.

And of course, with lights forming such a key part of the celebrations, lighting a few candles will add to the ambience and bring a beautiful glimmer to your meal. Our sweet-smelling Cherry Blossom Candle in a Glass with its notes of fragrant eastern florals, amber and vanilla would be a fitting accompaniment.

Our sweet, woody, warm and exotic Sandalwood & Oud Candle in a Glass also evokes the essence of the orient, while our Vetiver & Musk Candle in a Glass is another beautifully heady, powerful scented candle, reminiscent of a dark and mysterious eastern adventure - perfect for Chinese New Year.

Eastern ingredients including oud, myrrh, musk, vetiver and amber feature heavily in our home fragrance products. Explore them for yourself here