Health, herbs and hallowed singers – it´s time to reset our body clocks

October 22nd, 2020 by

After months of compensatory consumption during lockdown we were keen to listen to an expert in Holistic and Natural Nutrition, Tine van den Wall Bake who provided sage tips on healthy, intuitive eating and how to simply Live Younger Longer.

Tine is an exotic mix of Dutch and Peruvian by birth and judging by her sleek physique and boundless energy she certainly practises what she preaches.

As someone who is partial to the odd kilo of chocolate….albeit mainly dark except for the occasional 100g bar of cremoso milk Lindt that gets snaffled by mistake, not to mention the accidental glass (ok carafe) of Ribera del Duero of an evening I decided to tune in.

I should mention that Tine has more professional qualifications than most country´s political leaders (much more than some currently in the news I shan´t single out) and is a passionate advocate of her decade of research into a healthy holistic lifestyle.

Tine´s zest for life is infectious

Far from banning what we crave (phew) Tine advises balancing it with as much raw fresh fruit and vegetables as we can. The closer the food the resembles its natural state the healthier it is likely to be. Fortunately ready-made processed food is not so widespread or as palatable here in Spain as it is in some other countries. Apart from Telepizza perhaps. Why on earth would anyone want to order some greasy chewy soggy bread concoction purporting to be Italy´s best known crispy dough product beats me, yet thousands do it.

Tine mentioned energy. Why oh why did our mothers force us to eat lots of food when we were feeling below par. Digestion requires energy to do the job which should not be diverted unnecessarily from making us better. If we feel a bit peaky we need sleep not a Netflix binge deep into the night. Sleep is the most important medicine as some illnesses are exacerbated by the accumulation of toxins from forcing food on ourselves without giving ourselves a break.

A picture of health in Italy

Fasting was another subject. Intermittent fasting allows the body to detoxify and recover. I remember Dolly Parton once mentioning that she, like Tine does it carefully once a year. In fact Parton wrote one of her most memorable albums ever, Hungry Again (!) in 1997 whilst fasting and praying to activate her creative juices and sharpen the mind. Parton´s enviable hour-glass curves are certainly an example of someone living younger and longer at 74. Although I´m not sure that fasting is going to help me compete with her bra size.

Parton in her prime

Long term fasting is not for the faint-hearted and should be done in consultation with a physician. Whilst I appreciate the merits of giving one´s body a break in theory I have only fasted from chocolate once….only to eat triple the daily quantity once Lent was over.

Better out than in

Stress, illness, grief, tiredness all hit our immune system hard. So to give it a boost we should focus on anti-inflammatory foods. Tine recommends regular cups of ginger, lemon and honey or other herbal remedies. Post surgery, anti-inflammatory raw, vegetarian food is best.  Having had 3 eleven cm screws pulled out of my hip in the last month I wish I´d been able to eat anything at all. The nurses who brought the food managed to leave it on a table just out of my reach and hobbling on crutches balancing a tray full of packet peroxide-coloured pumpkin soup proved quite a challenge.

Herbal blends can also help to keep our rollercoaster hormones on an even keel, especially in and around peri/menopause.  I´m sure my grandmother mentioned that a daily pint of sherry worked wonders for her mood but science has moved on a bit since then.  

Apparently our hearts pump the equivalent of one truckful of blood (7,200L) round our bodies every single day and such effort inevitably has an impact on the efficiency of the filters responsible for the quality of that blood. Fasting is a bit like a computer reset. How many times have we spent half an hour waiting on call to speak to a Movistar operator who has managed to solve our huge technological disaster by asking us to merely switch off and turn on again our modem?? Our bodies are the same, we simply need to give them a chance to reset.

Bio-individuality means that we each have an optimum number of hours in which to rest from food through intermittent fasting.  Sport, meditation, clean food and yoga also improve the filter process. Effective breathing oxygenates and revives us literally.

Tine gave us lots of food for thought and I´m sure that as a result, there will be quite a few liver-cleansing juice machines on this year´s Christmas list.

As for how she´s found the time to carve out a very prestigious longstanding concurrent career as a global strategic marketeer….that´s another story………

Tine van den Wall Bake only takes on 2 clients at a time in addition to her day job.  She can be reached via what´s app +34 637 44 59 32 or you can follow her on Instagram.

Panic & Pizza – Susannah tries out some of Madrid´s best dough

January 24th, 2020 by
Front of Panic Bakery with steamed up window.

Any trip to the Centro Cultural Conde Duque should be synonymous with Panic. As featured in Gywneth Paltrow´s website, Goop, Panic is one of Madrid´s best artisanal bakeries.

Two years ago I stumbled across a huge queue of people enveloped in steam emanating from the ovens of a bakery known as Panic on Calle Conde Duque, off Calle Alberto Aguilera. Always on the look out for good quality bread I decided to join the line and 15 minutes later I got to the front and a flustered lady brandishing a large notebook was asking me my name. Rather non-plussed I explained that I´d come to buy bread, not to attend an interview. Confusion shortly gave way to panic as she explained that loaves had to be pre-ordered in advance. By this stage my gastric juices were close to causing a terminal ulcer in my stomach after spending so long inhaling tantalising aromas of freshly baked bread in the queue. Much coaxing ensued and I was issued with a few leftovers from the morning batch. Therein the panic gave way to today´s addiction.

Reserve your loaf in advance to avoid panic

This week, having been thwarted by the opening times of the Mats Staub video installation I end up fortuitously in “Emigrantes Invisibles” in the same Centro Cultural Conde Duque. This is a small boutique exhibition of photographs from the tens of thousands of Spaniards who emigrated to the US between 1890 and 1945. Many ended up in factories such as steel and tobacco in Ohio and Florida. Whilst Andalucían agricultural workers were granted free passage to Hawaii to continue their expertise in the sugar cane plantations. Once the railroads were built many moved again within the US and reputedly one of the first bars on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after Prohibition was opened by a Spaniard.

Spanish-owned bar on Lower East Side, Manhattan

Owing to the Civil War in Spain from 1936-1939, many immigrants realised that the US offered a more stable future and many first generation Spaniards resolved to integrate seamlessly in their new habitat, hence the adjective “invisible” in the exhibition´s title. However, the Spanish continued to observe and re-enact their traditional customs, fiestas and sports from the mother country including La Fiesta de San Roque, putting together frontón teams, participating proudly in annual Spanish parades in places such as Canton, Ohio, setting up numerous active Spanish Societies around the country and the organisation of countless annual Spanish picnic celebrations.

You can take the Spanish man out of Spain but not the Spanish out of the man

All those photographs of Spaniards enjoying their culinary fare round the States ignited a monstruous appetite so I turned my attentions to exploring the myriad authentic tabernas in maze of streets and squares around Calle Limón, San Vicente Ferrer up to Malasaña where I clocked Casa Macareno, 44 for a future visit. Ten minutes` stroll later, on Calle Dos de Mayo, I found myself in front of a hole in the wall emitting giant wafer-thin 2€ pizza slices loaded with toppings ranging from a simple Margarita to BBQ sauce and pepperoni. Ever faithful to my culinary conviction that less is more (regrettably that rule doesn´t apply to money…) I order rocket and mushroom from the female pizzaiolo who is deftly stretching and kneading the next order. The symphony of springy dough with just the right ratio of tomato and cheese inspires me to inquire if the owners are Italian. “No,” she replies with a wry grin, “Not at all, This is New York style pizza! ” 2€ is a definitely a recommendable bargain if you´re looking to be teleported to NYC any time soon. You´ll get there a lot faster than the emigrantes invisibles.

The dough has it

Panadería Panic – Calle Conde Duque, 13. Tel +34.910.86.22.01 Mon-Sat: 9:30am-9pm

Antonia Pizza – Calle Dos de Mayo. The cat is usually too busy to answer the phone.

Pizza hole in the wall
A slice of New York in Madrid

Chinese Tea Maestro casts a spell over INC at the Amaté Tea Shop

May 5th, 2019 by

Last month Brigitte, INC’s very own Fairy Godmother, treated us to a very special Chinese Tea Ceremony with some original add-ons of intrigue and healthy palate-teasers at family-run Tienda Amaté near Colón. I was half expecting a tiny, dark, musty and mysterious shop bulging with tins of tea on precarious bamboo shelving. Instead, I stepped out of the chaotic Madrid traffic into a bright, white serene oasis of calm as pastel-coloured partyware jostled next to beautiful artisanal Easter decorations, aromatic candles, detox products and stunningly-packaged selections of tea.  As if by magic the Chinese Tea Master, Ling Long, appeared and after lighting some heady incense sticks he soon had us completely bewitched as he proceeded to mix, infuse, pour and infuse again tea upon tea in complete silence. It was rather like someone massaging your eyelids as you soaked up the aromas and felt the stress of Madrid’s nearby business district ebb away from you.  I soon learned that I’d been steeping my tea for too long, thus over-enhancing the bitter tannins and that I’d probably also been making it with water that should be allowed to cool for a 1 minute or so beforehand.

By now I was casting around for some galleta María´s (Spain’s Rich Tea biscuit equivalents) to dip into my heady brew as I might do at home when the kids aren’t looking (except my lot were born with 360 degree vision) when suddenly bubbly Badajoz Chef Valentina (as in Valentina Mandarina delicious-but-still-healthy Catering) stepped forward to proffer quite the most delectable mini homemade vegan sweet and savoury breads and cakes that my taste buds can ever recall. Beaming Valentina is a culinary gluten and lactose-free Goddess who uses natural sweeteners such as dates, perfumed flowers and lots of rich nut butters including macadamia in ingenious concoctions that will smash through any vegan sceptisicm.

Over the course of a very happy morning we sampled all manner of green teas, black teas and even chocolate teas as Paula, the General Manager explained that tea is the most consumed drink in the world after water (and there was me thinking it was whisky) and is also at the heart of many Chinese herbal remedies.

By way of a fascinating aside Inmaculada Gómez stepped up and introduced her new crime novel, “En-red-@da” (Enrededa or Trapped in a web) about a fortysomething shop assistant who becomes heavily dependent on seeking male approval and avoiding potential loneliness through social media to the point of putting her own life in danger and therein commences the thriller. Whilst the softly-confident Inmaculada assured us that hers wasn’t an autobiographical tale her emotional summary certainly struck a chord with many of us present.

Finally Paula’s mother, Flor, brought our attention back to tea and we agreed that Amaté are also rather clever marketeers as, in addition to importing the well-known US tea brand, Harney & Sons, they produce their own labels with wonderfully playful names such as Anímate, Cuídate, Relájate and Mímate (Get up and go, Look After Yourself, Relax and Spoil Yourself). So I suggest you get yourself down to Calle Argensola, 6 smartish if you’re looking for a haven of peace and tranquillity or maybe the odd treat for oneself (park the guilt ladies). If I’d known my dear husband was going to forget all about Mother’s Day I’d have gone back again to treat myself……………….

How can I get my hands on some of that?

  • Tienda Amaté at Calle Argensola, 6. Madrid for first class teas, partyware, tea ceremonies and gift ideas (that means lots of lovely presents I actually like). Tel 913 198 934. Open Monday to Saturdays 1100 -1430 and 1700-2030. Closed Monday mornings.
  • for mouthwatering vegan, gluten & lactose-free chef, courses and caterer extraordinaire
  • Which could easily all be indulged with a riveting novel in hand such as the first in a trilogy, “En-red-@da” by Inmaculada Gómez available at bookshops and


April 8th, 2019 by



Last month some of us were fortunate enough to visit the atelier of Madrid’s last remaining family-owned Haute Couture fashion house, Casa Basaldúa.  We were warmly received by Isabel Goiri Basaldúa, the current Creative Director and grand-daughter of the founder. As many Madrileños are aware, Basaldúa  is well known for their exclusive haute couture wedding gowns and Montse soon showed us a few examples, both past and present as we all marvelled at the elaborate beading work and embroidery.

Isabel then took us through the paces of putting together an artistic moodboard before showing us some origami-inspired kimonos that she has designed with a modern twist. We were then treated to a fascinating preview of the latest prêt à porter collection which has not been shown to the press yet so cameras were hastily put away as we sat with bated breath. In the absence of any professional models, Loreto Saura and Denise Kildare came to the rescue and tried on several of the clothes to give us a better idea of how they looked when worn. Much merriment was had as both ladies did the beautiful clothes every ounce of justice ………….I sense a budding new career in the offing for these 2 members……… and huge thanks go to Isabel and Montse for dedicating such an enjoyable and generous slot of their valuable time.

Note from Editor: a full interview with Isabel Goiri Basaldúa will follow shortly!

Here´s one happy customer!




Segway Madrid, by Kirsty Leggatt

April 7th, 2015 by

Recently my husband and I, with friends took a Segway tour of Madrid and it was fantastic!! The segways are very easy to use and it takes no time to become accustomed to them — quite quickly, it feels like they’re an extension of one’s legs!!

We’ve taken the tour twice now with different visitors and everyone loved it. The two-hour tour is fabulous for getting a good look at Madrid from a different perspective. You have a guide of course who points out the different sites and landmarks and who provides a commentary to the group.

We segwayed (yes, I just made that word up) to the Royal Palace and the Cathedral, we took in the Temple of Debod in Parque del Oeste. From the park, we segwayed down to the river on the outskirts of Casa de Campo which was great fun because we got to put our foot down (so to speak) and open up along the wider paths. From there we toured up to the old part of Madrid and meandered through some of the back streets, past the café where one can get the best churros in Madrid (and it’s apparently open 24 hours) and to the Plaza de la Villa where you can purchase the most delightful sweets and conserves from the convent shop.

We finished the tour at Mercado de San Miguel where we were treated to a delicious paella tapa courtesy of the tour.

I highly recommend a Segway Tour as a fun and different way of exploring what central Madrid has to offer. There are numerous operators booking tours from Opera (and thereabouts).

Palacio Real and Solemn Changing of the Royal Guard, By Kirsty Leggatt

March 24th, 2015 by

Recently, my husband and I were lucky enough to attend a tour of the Royal Palace, organised by the Spanish military for the various Defence Attachés in Madrid.

The palace is beautiful, ornate, luxurious and a little over the top (as most palaces are!). Decorated in baroque and rococo styles, it screams wealth and stature. There are priceless examples of artwork, tapestries and period pieces on display that you won’t see anywhere else. Obviously, the entire palace isn’t included in the tour but you will get an up close and personal look at some of the most beautiful and interesting rooms—look out for the clocks.

There are over 2000 rooms in the palace, making it one of the largest in Europe (I believe it is the largest by floor area). It is well worth a visit.

We were also very lucky to get front seats to observe the Solemn Changing of the Royal Guard—very impressive! Conducted on the first Wednesday of each month at 12:00 midday (there are some exceptions I think so check beforehand), it truly is a magnificent military ceremony and I was enthralled from start to finish. The horses were splendid, prancing around the Armory Square in well-practiced precision. The regal uniforms and the precise performance and manoeuvres by The Royal Guard and the Regimental Band made for an extraordinary event.

For a good position, you really must get there early and take sunscreen and a hat, as there is not much shade.



Perceptions of Modern Art, by Patty Ryan

October 30th, 2014 by

In my experience, when speaking with people about art, they are consistently outspoken about modern art more than any other genre;  they either like it, or they don’t. If they don’t care for it, they tend to stay away from modern art exhibits as well. Our October GM, a viewing & tour of the work of Pilar Albarracín, and a tour of the home of Javier Lopez, re-introduced many of us to contemporary art and architecture. I believe people’s perceptions for this genre have changed dramatically.

Be honest, how many of you knew what was in the photos we showed you for our October General Meeting?


I thought they were segments for a large quilt;  my paternal grandmother and great grandmother were quilters. Only a handful of people at the meeting knew what these were before they arrived. As soon as everyone arrived and saw what was hanging on the walls they immediately formed a spectrum of opinions. Then INC member, Emily Murphy, gave us the guided tour and we came to understand more about the purpose of the art and the intentions of the artist.

for GM

These photos show you previously worn (washed) ladies underwear, given to artist from family, friends and friends of friends. They produced many different reactions from our members. As Emily explained, these modern mandalas tell many different stories from several perspectives. The artist also had on display intricate works done in embroidery, completely different from the mass produced panties. Here, the artist had hired two professional embroiderers who could reproduce with threads, what she had designed on paper. Amazing works and completely opposite of what we had seen in the gallery with the underwear. Yet both are modern art.

Had we not had a tour, I don’t think we would have fully appreciated what went into this exhibit. Like the art or not, our members came away with a deeper understanding of the artist and her art. Thanks to Emily Murphy, an Art Advisor, and guide of Art Tours for INC members, everyone enjoyed themselves very much.

Long-time member Marisa Cavero sent a lovely thank you note that sums up the day for many of us, I believe: “I went to the gallery with no expectations at all, just to “socialize”, but I found myself there in such a beautiful and interesting place that I´m still living on the memories. Thank you for providing this opportunity which re-opened to me an almost closed door to contemporary art (also ancient, remember Courbet those who attended) and to the highest level of style in decoration and architecture. Thank you again, and keep going!”

Many attending members asked me to tell the rest of you more about Emily. Please check the Blog in coming weeks for an article about Emily, and what an Art Advisor does.

Museo Tiflológico by Anne Pinder

September 30th, 2014 by

Not far from Cuatro Caminos lies one of Madrid’s secret museums: the Museo Tiflológico.  

Perhaps the tongue-twisting name has something to do with the unknown status of this place. Or maybe it’s the somewhat hidden location, several floors up from street level on a side street off Bravo Murillo, well away from the usual museum circuit, with very little signage in the street. Whatever the reason or reasons, even long-time local residents are unaware of this museum.
So what is this place?

The Tiflológico is run by the Spanish National Blind Organization (ONCE), which many locals know mainly from the telephone booth-sized kiosks selling ONCE lottery – or lottery sellers on street corners. Fewer people are aware of the large ONCE training center in the north part of the city or the other ONCE buildings in Madrid. Even fewer know that the ONCE organization also helps people who are not completely sightless, and some people with other kinds of disabilities.

This ONCE museum was inaugurated in 1992, with four main sections:

Reading, writing and teaching tools for the blind. Explains the raised-dot Braille system for reading and writing and shows the tools used over the years, plus other tools for learning to be functional in a sighted world (Braille typewriters, “talking” books, calculators…). Lots of exhibits of tools used as well as explanatory text. This section is actually the largest of the four sections, quite educational and gives the museum its name.

Temporary exhibits: Often quite interesting (I discovered this museum thanks to a temporary exhibit), usually artwork by blind or visually impaired artists. The museum often buys or keeps a piece on loan after these exhibits.

Permanent exhibit of art by the blind: With artwork that would be considered very good even among sighted artists, the quality and diversity of art in this section may change your ideas about the capacities of sightless people. Some of my favorites are the blue tapestry, the chestnut seller sculpture, and a painting showing a rainy street scene – not to mention the sculptures in the entryway.
Models: Thirty-six scale models of major monuments in Spain and the rest of the world: Madrid’s Alcala gate, Santiago de Compostela’s Cathedral, Fromista’s Romanesque church and Segovia’s Aqueduct share space with Rome‘s Coliseum, the leaning tower of Pisa and the Taj Majal. These models are partly a teaching tool for the blind, but are fascinating for the sighted as well, giving a bird’s-eye view of monuments that cannot be fully understood at street level or inside. A few models may be on loan out of the museum, but the majority will always be there.

All in all, a great place to see, for the artwork and the monuments, which are a fun “visit” to sights in other cities.  

Museo Tiflologico (located in the ONCE bibliographic building)
website: Email:
calle Coruña 18 Metro stop: Estrecho
Usual schedule: Tues-Fri 10AM-2PM, 5-8PM, Sat 10AM-2PM, closed Sun+Mon
Note: Take your ID or a photocopy, you may be asked to fill out a short form before entering the museum.

Las Fallas in Valencia

February 26th, 2014 by

Spain is a country filled with interesting festivals like no other. On the bucket list of every expatriate living in Spain should include a trip to Valencia in the first 2 weeks of March to see and experience the color, the loudness and the wackiness of the Las Fallas festival. This is Valencia’s carnaval. I consider this festival (next to the Tomatina or tomato throwing festival in Andalucia and the running of the bulls in Pamplona) as one of the best celebrated in Spain.

This is a traditional festival celebrating the feast of Saint Josep (St. Joseph), the patron saint of Valencia. Each neighbourhood in the city of Valencia has an organized group of people, the Casal faller, that works all year long holding fundraising parties and paella dinners,  the region’s famous dish. Each casal faller produces a construction known as a falla which is eventually burned. A casal faller is also known as acomissió fallera.Municipal_2013

Each group or casal faller in the towns would spend months preparing the puppets or dolls known as ninots. Each ninot which are massive (some measuring 20 to 30 feet high) are mounted on its own firecracker filled cardboard and paper mache stand in a street in the neighborhood or barrio they are representing. The ninots on their mounts are called fallas and they are paraded through the streets. At the end of the festival and a panel of judges representing Valencia’s affluent society select the best falla which connotes the theme of the festival for the year. This is one of the most prestigious prizes one can receive in Valencia. The barrio or area which made the winning falla is inaugurated into the Seccion Especial, the table of winners of the best fallas in the history of the festival.


This is a two week festival culminating on the 19th of March with the burning of the fallas all over the city. What I find so beautiful about  this festival is the fact that crews of artists and artisans, painters and sculptors are hired to build beautiful. funny, sarcastic caricatures of politicians, fanciful figurines and in the most outrageous poses in gravity defying architecture. This festival brings out the full creative spirit of Spain. Artisans use paper and wax, wood and styrofoam materials and some structures can be as high as a five story building. Aside from the fallas, the traditional costumes of Valencia with the best hand made painetas  (combs) for the hair and gold filigree jewelery are worn by the women who are in charge of guarding the peace in the pueblos. I find it interesting how women play such a major role in probably the loudest and one of the most dangerous festivals in Spain. It truly depict how a matriarch society sets the rules at home, in communities and in a society as whole. There is no better way to see this display of women power than in Spanish festivals !

The festival actually begins on the 1st of March with the sound of the brass bands heard every morning  at 8:00 am followed by the fallas paraded through the streets of each barrio until March 19. Behind the bands are the fallers throwing firecrackers on the streets. The sound is deafening and the air fills with smoke. The firecrackers are set off to ward off spirits and to signal the end of the winter gloom and the start of spring. Then the Mascleta, a coordinated explosive barrage of fireworks  begins at 2 pm every day in each neighborhood. This is the beginning of the competition of pyrotechnicians who display their grandiose abilities to impress the Fallera Mayor who dressed in her finery (which includes the traditional dress hand embroidered in gold and silk jacquard), stands on the balcony of the Municipal Hall and announces every afternoon, “Pyrotechnics, you may begin the Mascleta and light your fireworks !”

The sound is deafening and if you plan to attend this festival best to bring earplugs for your children. They may not be able to withstand the noise without some form of protection for their hearing.

As this is all going on throughout the day, the spanish do what they do best—party with lots of drink, tapas and paella ! From the 15th to the 18th of March, the riverbed that runs through Valencia lights up in the most spectacular firework display. On the 19th of March, the Cabalgata de Fuego or Fire Parade begins along Colon Street and the Port de la Mar. The celebration of fire is the spirit of the festival and in the past symbolized the burning of old furniture at the beginning of spring—a  gesture that the people of Valencia are spring cleaning their homes, their neighbourhoods. Today, the Fire Parade is filled with floats, and effigies of politicians, famous people, and even cartoon characters. Usually news headliners are burned as a symbol of the way in which spanish society may perceive them to be–good or bad in terms of making the news. Some of the famous personalities whose effigies have been burned in the past are Barack Obama and Lady Gaga and George W. Bush.

If you are planning to attend the Fallas festival this year, make your plans very soon. Select hotels that are not on the main roads because they can be extremely noisy due to the massive amount of fireworks that are lit up throughout the 19 day festivities. You can bring your children but take care of their ears ! Best to bring ear muffs or ear plugs because the noise may disturb them. It is however a great festival for them to see in terms of culture, colour and sheer fun.

If you would like more information about Las Fallas in Valencia, log onto the official website of the organizers of the festival It has lots of interesting recommendations of where to stay and eat while in Valencia and where the best vantage p0ints for the fireworks will be.


History of the Chinese New Year

January 28th, 2014 by

As INC members prepare to celebrate Chinese New Year in Madrid,  Kristina Stehling gives an insight on the history behind Chinese New Year celebrations and how to determine if this is your year to celebrate.


In the Chinese New Year calendar, 2014 is the Year of the Horse

As we celebrate Chinese New Year on the 31st of January, a few facts about the reasons why the Chinese celebrate their new year differently.

First, it is important to note that the Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. The Chinese this year are celebrating their 4712nd year on January 31. You may ask why are they celebrating their 4712nd year and not like everyone else the 2014th year ? This is because the Chinese calendar is based on a lunar calendar, with each month beginning on the darkest day.

The Chinese lunisolar calendar is divided into 12 months of 29 or 30 days. The calendar is adjusted to the length of the solar year by the addition of extra months at regular intervals. The years are arranged in major cycles of 60 years. Each successive year is named after one of 12 animals. Each animal represents a 12-year cycle which are continuously repeated. The Chinese New Year is celebrated at the second new moon after the winter solstice and falls between January 21 and February 19 on the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, based on this calculation or way of counting the years, the year 2011 for example, translated to the Chinese year is 4707–4708. This year 2014 translates to the Chinese year 4712.

Chinese New Year celebrations traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the 15th day when the moon is believed to be the brightest. In China, because the population is so large, many Chinese businesses and establishments close for the month in order to allow people to return to their home provinces and to prepare for the big celebration on the day itself. The Beijing train station is considered the busiest transport hub in the world during Chinese New Year with over 200 million people travelling through the station during the new year. The Chinese government’s prediction this year is that 1.3 billion people travel across China during this period.

The legend behind Chinese New Year is fascinating and is at the forefront of Chinese beliefs on whether you are a lucky person or not in life. According to the legend, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve animals came and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal’s year would have some of that animals personality. Those born this year, which is the year of the horse are cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, witty, talented and good with their hands. Some of the most famous people born the year of the horse are the artist Rembrandt, singer Aretha Franklin, classical pianist Chopin, Actor Harrison Ford, U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor and a great American President Theodore Roosevelt. As you can surmise, these personalities possessed the traits of the horse –as Buddha predicted.

During Chinese New Year, people in China wear red clothes and give out red envelopes to children with “lucky money. If you should receive such a gift, you will also be fortunate in your goals for the year. In Chinese villages, red paper is strewn all over with poetic slogans of good wishes. Red symbolizes fire and according to the Chinese, fire drives away bad luck. Fireworks is very important during these celebrations because they are rooted in the similar ancient Chinese customs that crackling flames frighten away evil spirits. In the past when fireworks were not yet invented, the Chinese bamboo stalks which emit a very loud crackling noise when placed in fire.

You may not be born the year of the horse but that does not mean you will live a miserable life. Budhha believed that each animal is possessed with a good and a bad trait. The Chinese believe that it is up to the person to harness their best traits to prevent them from falling into misery and deprivation. Life is a struggle and in a country of over 2 billion people all celebrating the new year, some may be born luckier than others. What keeps the Chinese from not thinking about failure is their great belief in their culture, their superstitions and in following their signs, their horoscope. Many believe they are born the year of the Horse, or the Rat, or the Tiger for a reason. They learn to live with the traits of the animal they have been fated with.

If you would like to know what your sign  (or those of your present and future children) may be on the Chinese calendar, look at the chart below and look for the year you were born. Gong Xi Fa Cai ! Happy New Year !


Traits of the Animals

  • Rat: quick-witted, smart, charming, and persuasive
  • Ox: patient, kind, stubborn, and conservative
  • Tiger: authoritative, emotional, courageous, and intense
  • Rabbit: popular, compassionate, and sincere
  • Dragon: energetic, fearless, warm-hearted, and charismatic
  • Snake: charming, gregarious, introverted, generous, and smart
  • Horse: energetic, independent, impatient, and enjoy traveling
  • Sheep: mild-mannered, shy, kind, and peace-loving
  • Monkey: fun, energetic, and active
  • Rooster: independent, practical, hard-working, and observant
  • Dog: patient, diligent, generous, faithful, and kind
  • Pig: loving, tolerant, honest, and appreciative of luxury