February meeting

Sadly our speaker from the Medaille Trust was unwell last week and had to cancel. We hope to be able to rebook this talk on Ending Modern Slavery later on in the year.

We were therefore, very fortunate to be able to book Kirsty Norman who gave a joyous and inspirational talk on Chinese New Year and the meaning behind the flowers, plants and fruits that are a major part of the celebrations. Kirsty was born and grew up in Hong Kong and tries to return at least once a year. This year Chinese New Year falls on February 12th so this was a truly timely talk.

Chinese new year follows the lunar cycle and so the date changes each year. 2020 was the year of the rat and the coming year will be year of the Ox.  The new year celebrations are about sharing health, wealth and luck. Luck is a concept lost in translation between English and Cantonese. The Western understanding is based on chance, with the Chinese interpretation more like destiny, to stay on path you are meant to stay on for life.

Colours are hugely influential, with red especially strong. Yellow corresponds with earth (gold and good luck). For new year, auspicious clothes are red and you have a new hair cut, which is a signal for a good start, and this also includes lucky pants!    Bamboo leaves are used to clean the house as this gets rid of evil spirits.

The Chinese used to buy huge fire crackers to celebrate but now they have firework displays in Hong Kong harbour.

Couplets are written and placed on front doors for luck and there is a huge amount of symbolism in everything the Chinese do, particularly with art and plants. Everything represents something.

Chinese new year is also referred to as spring festival, traditionally when harvest and planting starts, the joy of spring and renewal.

There is a huge plant market held in Victoria park (in Hong Kong) which runs for 6 days. White colours are generally avoided as they refer to funeral, and cut flowers were, in the past, used for funerals.

In the Cantonese language there are up to 7 pronunciation tones for the same words, which can thus be said in many different ways, so people use sounds to play on words.

For plants there are two groups, native and introduced species.  Citruses are most typical, citrus fruit round and golden like sun, aligned with Yang or positive symbol. You give Kumquat to wish luck and good fortune. Pomelo, the more you eat the more wealth it will bring. Chinese plum for courage. Peach is a symbol of romance and vitality, warding away evil spirits and is sacred in China.

Peony represents wealth and peace and honour, with red known as king of flowers and is important for businesses and found on new year graphics. Water fairy – if they open on day of new year this brings enormous good luck. Chrysanthemum, Confusion morals. Don’t give white ones though as this is associated with grief and mourning.  Pussy willow is regarded as silver (not white), represents a house full of silver, buds are a sign of growth and prosperity. Orchids represent purity, fertility and abundance. Potted orchid is the most common gift at this time.  Azalea is traditional for new year.

Nowadays more flowers are being imported with more meaning, for example:

Lucky bamboo from Africa, the number of stalks mean different things, but there should not be 4 stalks as this is unlucky as the number four said in a different tone means death.  Spiralling stalks are used to turn one’s luck around and upright stalks are to maintain one’s good fortune.

Jade / money tree represents enormous good luck.

Gladioli – a steady rise, good for rising career, originated in South Africa.

Phoenix tail, high virtue and grace.

Pitcher plant, portrays money bags, originating in Madagascar.

The Chinese decorate trees / plants for the home with Li xi (lucky money) packets. Tiny golden purses hang from orchids and they use pussy willow for decorating. The Hong Kong orchid tree is the national flower.

Another side to all of this, the Chinese new year flower Tiu Chung was used widely from the early Qing dynasty but was too popular and had to be banned from cutting as it was not sustainable when collecting from the wild.

Also, what happens to everything after new year? Almost all trees etc are disposed of and create huge amounts of landfill. As most of the plants have been forced they will usually only flower like this the once.

In 2020 all 15 of the flower markets were closed. In January 2021 they were to close but now there has been a change of mind and they are to be opened this year.

We thanked Kirsty for stepping into the breach and presenting this splendidly colourful and vibrant talk, which was followed by a Q&A, where we learnt that she has a passion for moon cake and it was suggested that the recipe for this is included in our cook book.

There was so much interest from our members on how we could celebrate, Kirsty has kindly send through some links to craft ideas for making your own flowers and decorations to celebrate the Chinese New Year. If you have a go at any of these do send some pictures in and we can post them on the website and Facebook

Paper peonies: these look lovely! You’ll need red paper napkins, white paper napkins, and some thread, ideally red.

Paper plum blossoms. You’ll need pink tissue or crepe paper, and yellow paper.

“Flower lanterns” made from 60 red lucky money packets, here called Ang Pow (Malaysia) but in Cantonese, Lai See. Easily available online. You need a stapler.

Small lanterns, made from 4 red lucky money packets, with a stapler.

Cherry blossom: this left crafting because you have to buy the flowers ready-made

Looking forward to our April cheerleading workshop

For April we will be learning a cheerleading routine, but will need pom poms.  This link will show how to make pom poms very easily in preparation for April’s meeting: https://kidscraftroom.com/how-to-make-pom-pons/

Book Group

Book group are currently working their way through The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz and will be meeting via Zoom on 16th February.

Solace 40 Update

This January we have been doing The SOLACE 40 –  a challenge to walk, run or cycle 40 miles in January. That’s one mile for each Solace refuge which offers safety and security to survivors of domestic violence. Every mile goes toward supporting survivors build safe, strong futures.  As a women’s group Solace is a charity that is close to our hearts and we have been supporting them for five years now raising money through our cake stall at Party In The Park and at the Flower & Produce Show.  We have set up a Just Giving page if you would like to donate https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dbwisolace

So far we have clocked over 220 miles and raised more than £1400 smashing our original target of £500 but we would love to be able to raise more for such a fantastic and worthwhile charity. The just giving page is going to stay up for a few more days if you would like to donate. A huge thank you to everyone who has supported us.

Thanking our local NHS workers

some examples of lavender hearts

Local member Lynn is putting together goody bags for NHS workers at the Homerton Hospital.  We are getting involved by sewing drawstring bags and lavender hearts for the bags.  All materials will be provided and if you would like to join us do email debeauvoirwi@gmail.com to let us know

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