Happy Chinese New Year!

year of the goatThe Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, is the most important festival for Chinese people. Legend has it that in ancient times, there was a monster called “Nian” (“year”) that would come out to eat people and animals on the eve of every New Year. To avoid the monster’s attack, people would flee to the depth of the mountains and call this day “Nian Guan” (meaning “the Pass of Nian”). On one New Year’s Eve, there came an old beggar in Peach Blossom Village, where an old lady gave him some food and asked him to hide himself in the mountain to avoid the monster Nian. The old man promised that he could drive the monster away as long as he was put up for the night at the old lady’s home. Being unable to persuade the old man into hiding in the mountain, the old lady went alone. In the middle of the night, the monster Nian dashed into the village. He trembled and cried when he saw the red paper on the door of the old lady’s house, which was brightly lit. Just as the monster reached the entrance, there came blasting sounds that prevented him from moving any further. At that time, the old man, wearing a red robe, opened the door and the monster was scared away. After that, on every New Year’s Eve, every household would paste red couplets, lit off firecrackers, and lit candles, as well as stay awake all night, to avoid being attacked by the monster.

chinese new year

China’s most important holiday

Chinese New Year is the longest national holiday in China, spanning a total of fifteen days, and New Year’s Day is the most important date in the Chinese calendar.

Although China has used the Gregorian calendar since 1912, Chinese New Year is based on the ancient Chinese lunar calendar, and it falls on the second new moon after winter solstice – somewhere between January 21 and February 19, meaning it changes from year to year.

It is pronounced “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin and “Gong Hey Fat Choy” in Cantonese, although both are written the same way.

Roughly a sixth of the world will celebrate it

As well as being celebrated in China itself, celebrations occur in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and all countries where there are significant Chinese populations.

London and San Fransisco both claim to host the largest celebrations outside of Asia but celebrations occur in most Western countries.

year of the goat3

Goat or sheep?

2015 is the year of the goat, but you may see it referred to as the “Year of the Sheep”.

The confusion stems from the Chinese character “yang”, which can translate in colloquial Chinese as either sheep or goat.

Those born in 1919, 1931, 1943, 1967, 1979, 1991, or 2003 are goats, who can count their lucky colours as brown, red, and purple.

Their characters are kind and peaceable, while their best months are August and November and their lucky flowers are primroses and carnations.

Year of the Goat

The Year of the Goat is just one of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs and each animal is matched to the elements (gold, wood, water, fire, and earth). This, coupled with different emperor reigns, helped people to remember who was when, enabling the Chinese to trace back 3,000 years with great accuracy.

Personality of the Goat

People born in the Year of Goat are tender, polite, filial, clever, and kind-hearted. They have special sensitivity to art and beauty and a special fondness for quiet living. They are wise, gentle, and compassionate and can cope with business cautiously and circumspectly. In their daily life, they try to be economical. They are willing to take good care of others, but they should avoid pessimism and hesitation.
chinese red envelopeChildren will sleep with money under their pillow

Children will be given red envelopes filled with money to bring happiness and good fortune.

The envelopes themselves are good luck, as well as the contents, and some children will sleep with their envelopes under their pillow for up to seven days to increase their luck.

A common misconception is that everyone receives money from everyone as part of Chinese New Year celebrations. In fact, only people who are not married receive the red packets of money (hong bak) and only those who are married give them out.

chinese red lantern1

Lantern Festival

The final day of Chinese New Year celebrations, Day 15, is the Lantern Festival, where red lanterns are released into the sky. The Lantern Festival is one of China’s important traditional festivals and can be traced back more than 2,000 years. At the beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Emperor Hanmingdi was an advocate of Buddhism. He heard that some monks lit lanterns in the temples to show respect to Buddha on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Therefore, he ordered all temples, households, and royal palaces to light lanterns on that evening. This Buddhist etiquette gradually formed a grand festival among people.

Another story states that the Lantern Festival was originated from the Torch Festival. During the Han Dynasty, people in rural areas held torches to scare away beasts and insects to reduce insect damages and pray for a good harvest. Nowadays, during the Lantern Festival, people in some areas of Southwest China still have the tradition of lighting torches made of branches or reeds and dance in groups in the fields. The Lantern Festival became very popular during the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties about 1,000 years ago. According to historical records, during the festival, hundreds of thousands of singers and dancers participated in the celebration which lasted from morning until dawn.

Happy Chinese New Year from all of us at Sandman Hotel Group!

New Year’s Resolutions… This Year We’ll Actually Keep Them!

Learning a new language, reading more, going on a diet… Do you find keeping New Year’s resolutions to be an impossible task? Well, let’s do something different this year: let’s make resolutions that make sense.

Below are a list of seven resolutions that Sandman’s Head Office is going to (try) and live by for 2015.

push up

1. Do One Push Up Every-Other Day

That’s it.

Really?

Really.

Think about it. The biggest obstacle about working out is laziness and difficulty. When they get combined, the inconvenience of finding a gym, of committing an hour, of changing clothes and planning showers… it works against you.

So, every other day, do a single push-up.

Here’s what will happen. You’ll get into a rhythm and set reminders for your work-out. You’ll have a tiny sense of a continuing promise to self-betterment that is almost too small to forget or avoid. One single push-up with built-in rest days! How could you not?

You’ll gain confidence and a routine for working out, or at least a recurring reminder to think about it. You’ll have the pride of awareness and the momentum of successful obligation to build off; maybe that one push-up will lead to a full set. Maybe crunches too. But maybe not!

Because as long as you do that one push-up, you’ve reminded yourself that there’s room for more and you’ve lifted the fog of apathy from your mind. And, even if you don’t work out more that day, you’ve satisfied your mental requirement for more.
french-fries-2. No Bad Fries

That’s it.

Life is too short for bad french fries. If you’re going to treat yourself, you should appreciate it. Humdrum junk-food eaten without appreciation is a waste of the purpose of food; to serve you and to be savoured. Extend that, then, to all bad junk food; either get the good stuff or get nothing.

This resolution will make you healthier and/or happier. Because you’ll either opt for better fries – sweet potato, truffle-based, garlic parmed – or fries from a place you trust. Once you cut out the generic “I guess” unthinking acceptance of mediocre junk food, you’ll be more aware of eating habits and happier for them.

Keep in mind that this bans only the mediocre, unthinking regretful food – you’re absolutely encouraged to get the good stuff, good slices of pizza, favourite Ben and Jerry’s etc. Those are the better foods in life: this is just about avoiding the wack “I guess” pretenders from your life.

Cut the mediocre from your diet, and you’ll be healthier or happier. And hey, maybe both.

movie popcorn3. Learn More About Something You Love

Do you like movies? Watch more movies. Find the movies you always wondered about and watch them. Rewatch old favourites with a critical eye. Find out what you like about Scorsese or Tarantino or any other director that’s both good, hitting that cross-section of artistic, important, and fun.

If you like movies, pick a director from here: Spike Lee, Tarantino, Hitchcock, or Scorsese. All four directors are important, talented, stylistic, and enjoyable. Seriously.

People talk about learning a new language, or reading more, or any other resolution that sounds like homework. So why not blend the two and find that cross-section of the productive and enjoyable?

You’re more likely to do something you actually want to do. You don’t get credit for saying something.

If you like music, make sure you listen to all the albums you’ve heard are amazing. If you don’t know much outside of rap, but if you haven’t heard “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” do it right now. It’ll be the most productive, enjoyable, and important 68 minutes of your new year.

What else should people read, watch, and hear for the year? Leave your to-do list in the comments and borrow someone else’s. Yay! We’re productive now!

pinochio4. Tell The Truth More

Say nice things when you feel them, quickly choose the difficult truths you’re only going to choose later anyway and say “no” to things you don’t want before you regretfully find yourself at seven masquerade brunch-parties.

Cut to the chase in 2015. You’ll be happier, and it’s what you’ve wanted to do all along. Isn’t it relieving to have somebody else tell you to?

now5. List Out All The Things You’re Procrastinating And Practice Checking Them Off

None of that vague “I want to work out more!” stuff, either. The clear, simple “what do I need to do this year/month/week” type list.

Here’s an example list for a year’s resolution that gets to the gritty and will keep you accountable.

***

Cook stir-fry at least ten times.

Cook eggs at least twenty times.

Go to the gym at least ten times.

Read at least three novels.

Write at least twenty emails home this year.

(Insert yours here)

***

See? Those are tangible, check-off-able things you can do every day and will add up over the year. You want to cook more? Make a modest (modest! It should seem too easy on paper, because it’ll be much harder in life) numbered list of tasks. Every time you do it, you’ll see and feel the progress of taking a step forward, and you can see the evidence of your year and progress.

It’s like a diary of success that holds you accountable!

Yeah!

clothes donations6. Toss Everything That Sucks

Simplify your life.

Throw out old clothes that you hate (actually donate them, don’t throw them away) and any other clutter that holds you back, literally or otherwise.

Make space in your life. Leave it elegant and neat and see what new, lovely chaos will come to fill it. Sort through that chaos and take what you love. Toss the rest, and repeat it again.

That’s life, and the more space you give yourself to live in it, the happier you’ll be.

success17. Remember Your Successes

Take pride in your accomplishments and they’ll come to you more easily.

Savour your failures and you’ll find them everywhere.

Resolve to have a better perspective on yourself and your improvements in the new year and watch as you step up to fulfill the promise of your attitude.

Feeling good provokes good results. It’s a rare and lovely synergy that should be savoured.


Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? Tell us about them and how you plan on keeping your resolutions this year.

Happy New Year’s from all of us at Sandman Hotel Group!

Fight Those January Blues

Sad DogMisery is expected to peak the third Monday in January (Monday, January 20, 2014) being that it’s the “most depressing day” of the year. (Note: you can say things like “is expected to” if one person expects it to be true.)

That one person is Cliff Arnalls of Wales, who created the formula to determine the worst day of the year. (Note: if you can find someone who agrees with him, we can say: “Researchers agree…”)

bluemonday2

whereby…

W = weather
D = debt
d = amount of January pay check
T = time since Christmas
Q = amount of time since failure to quit bad habit
M = motivational levels
NA = the need to take action

Even though the shortest day of the year is December 21st, the weather continues getting colder throughout the month of January. In fact, in the ancient Roman calendar, the year originally started in March and ended in December. The months of January and February were just one big shapeless clump of days, as the calendar was used mainly for agricultural purposes and was based on lunar cycles rather than solar.  In the 700s BC, January and February were “created” to fill in the gap.

By a couple weeks into the new year, the energy of the holidays has long dissipated, folks have failed all or most of their resolutions, and their bank accounts are still empty.

Of course, this is just a theory — one that has been dismissed by many. But if you do feel down around this time of the year, not all hope is lost. Experts may have found the most depressing day out of 365, but they have also found a number of ways to combat the accompanying feelings of depression.

To lighten the mood during Blue Monday or whenever all seems overwhelming, try these helpful tips:

exerciseGet out and exercise

Staving off the blue can be achieved in many cases with proper exercise and diet. In addition to improving a person’s self-image, exercising regularly releases feel-good chemicals in the body. Physical activity also increases body temperature which creates a calming sensation and reduces the release of stress hormones and other certain chemicals which can make symptoms of depression worse. Use Blue Monday to go out for a jog, play with your pups, or do a 20-minute round at the gym!

Be social

Celebrate Blue Monday with friends and family. Individuals who spend at least two hours a week interacting with others experienced less intense symptoms of depression compared to people who remained isolated. So if you are feeling down, make an effort to find some company!

Get Out of BedTake things one step at a time

For serious bouts of the blues, keeping things simple may be one of the best answers to fighting off Blue Monday. Instead of thinking about all the things you have to do, just focus on the task at hand. First, focus on getting out of bed. Once that task has been accomplished, focus on getting dressed, eating breakfast and getting ready for the day. By keeping things simple, you can feel a sense of accomplishment with each small task.

Keep up with a hobby

It makes sense that doing something you enjoy boosts mental health, and keeping up with a hobby has a positive impact even on patients with major depressive disorders. The use of hobbies to combat depression was primarily used by researcher Viktor Frankl, who created a psychotherapeutic technique called logotherapy. This form of therapy used hobbies and enjoyable activities to help refocus depressed individuals on what they felt was the meaning of life. Having a purpose, such as caring for a pet, helped bring patients back into a productive daily routine.

Do not fall victim of the hype

Who is to say your day has to be a bad one? Remember, you have control over your emotions and thoughts.

Helpful TipsTips for making it through Blue Monday:

“Have a party and celebrate” – Jack Gilbert, Ontario, Canada

“Exercise and bibliotherapy” — Dr. Alan Cohen, Royal College of General Practioners

“Watch the film ‘The Sound of Music’” — Ketan Shah, Harrow, England

“Move to New Zealand… It’s summer!” – Oliver, Auckland, New Zealand

Thank you, New Zealand, for rubbing that in.

Note: make sure to visit Sandman’s Facebook Page on Monday, January 20, 2014 for a giveaway that is sure to cure your Monday or January blues!

New Year’s Resolutions – Did You Make Them Realistic?

Travel Quote

Gulliver traveled. Look where it got him: lashed to the land by little people. Columbus, big traveler, right? Underestimated the circumference of the Earth and died thinking he’d found India. Sure, you can come up with justifications for never leaving the splendid safety of your office chair. Truth is, travel makes us better in many ways: better employees, better family members, and better friends.

Every year, the month of January makes us say things like: Out with the old; in with the new. It may be cliché, but every year, we say it. That may be because there’s something about the beginning of a new year that automatically sparks a desire to make a change or start something fresh. But instead of making a new year’s resolution that is unattainable, why not find something you will be able to achieve and enjoy at the same time.

iphone 5 cameraHow about learning how to actually use your camera? (Remember that there is a camera on your phone, so this applies to all smart phone users as well.) Our resident social media guru put together these five simple tips to help kick start your camera knowledge.

Number 1: Get to know your camera/phone functions. You don’t want to be fumbling with controls and missing moments.

Number 2: Turn your flash off for nightscapes. Flash can only travel a few feet, so there is no way it’s going to help you with that Vegas-by-night shot. Find a stable place to sit the camera, like a portable tripod or even a curbside newspaper box.

Number 3: Use flash in the sun. Try turning on the flash when you’re taking portraits of each other in harsh sunlight. It sounds odd, but flash will actually fill in the heavy shadows caused by the sun, giving you more even light and color.

Number 4: The landscape mode on your camera is designed to give you sharp pictures from a distance, along with rich blue skies and lush earth tones. Flip to this mode when you need it, and let the camera do all the work.

Number 5: Don’t always rely on zoom lenses to get you close to the action. Walk right up to your subject, interact with them, and get details that fly-by tourists would miss in their haste.

photo collageNow that you know how to use your camera, let’s put your new knowledge to use. And there’s no better way to test your camera skills than to go on a trip. Think about the amazing adventures, delicious food, and the beautiful photos you will take. Exciting!

There’s only one thing left to do. Plan the trip.

Why? Because the pleasure of pre-trip anticipation is invigorating. It’s why puppies are more joyful than dogs.

Pros to planning now: A vacation begins the second you start to plan it. Travelers’ moods improve as soon as the planning begins, even before the actual vacation starts.

Cons: Running out of toner the second you try to print your boarding pass. Trying to remember where you put the digital luggage scale. Rushing out to buy batteries for that digital luggage scale.

Canadian TravelSo where will your new adventure take you? If you’re looking to travel within Canada, your choices are endless.

Canada’s cities are energetic, multi-cultural, and most importantly, distinctive.  You don’t drive from one to the other expecting the same.  Vancouver and Victoria’s lifestyles are always relaxed, and while it may be wet, it doesn’t stop people from enjoying the natural surroundings of each city.  Booming Calgary and Edmonton reap the benefits of our natural resources.  Regina and Saskatoon proudly bring vibrancy to the prairies.  Winnipeg is a definite cultural centre at the heart of the country. Toronto and Ottawa are the corridors of business and politics.  Montreal enjoys a reputation as the coolest city in the country, if not the continent, while the streets of old Quebec City feel like they’ve teleported from Europe.  The history is everywhere in Halifax and Charlottetown, and the charm thick in Fredericton. In Newfoundland, St John’s witnesses the first sunrise of the continent, and its brightly painted houses as animated as its people.  Let’s not forget Whitehorse, Yellowknife, and Iqaluit, our vibrant outposts of the Great White North.

Whatever your new year’s resolution might be, whether it be travelling or learning how to use your camera, Sandman looks forward to spending time with you in 2014!

Ring in the New Year in Style… and with Good luck

GroupCelebrating_139152893Quick question: What will your wardrobe be on New Year’s Eve? Nice dress? Black tie? How about your, ahem, underwear? If you lived in parts of South America, it wouldn’t even be a question. In São Paulo, La Paz, and other spots, people don brightly coloured underpants to ring in the New Year — red if they’re looking for love and yellow for money.

champagne-NEW-YEARNo matter what we wear, though, New Year signifies a new beginning. Flipping open a fresh calendar, with its 12 pristine, as-yet-unmarked months, is perhaps one of the most universally hopeful acts we humans perform. Finally, a chance to shrug off a year’s worth of worries, conflicts, and mistakes. Finally, a chance to start over.

It’s no wonder we all welcome the holiday with such enthusiasm. In the U.S. (and in lots of other countries), the event is celebrated with fireworks and parades, drinking and toasts. Some cultures, though, have more unusual ways of ushering in the New Year.

In many countries, there’s a shared belief that specific actions taken on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day — or at the stroke of midnight — can influence the fate of the months ahead. In the Philippines, for example, wearing polka dots and eating round fruits is supposed to ensure a prosperous new year. In Spain, wolfing down handfuls of grapes as the clock strikes 12 is said to have the same effect.

In other countries, New Year’s customs are about driving away the bad spirits of the past year, so that the new one can arrive unsullied and uncorrupted. The purifying power of fire is often used in such ceremonies. During the Scottish festival of Hogmanay, for instance, parades of village men swing giant blazing fireballs over their heads as they march through the streets. In Panama, sculptures or statues of popular celebrities and political figures—called muñecos—are burned in bonfires. Other bad-spirit-banishing customs are less fiery and more fun, like the Danish tradition of jumping off chairs at midnight (which gives new meaning to the term “leap year”).

Corn BreadIf food is how you choose to celebrate holidays, there are multitudes of food that are said to bring luck and prosperity.

Black Eyed Peas: Resembling coins, these beans are said to bring prosperity in the New Year and are often enjoyed in the traditional southern dish known as Hoppin’ John, which in some households, may be preceded by a hopping dance performed around the table by the children.

Buttered Bread: New Years Day in Ireland is also known as Day of the Buttered Bread (or Sandwich, depending on the Gaelic translation). Tradition says buttered bread placed outside the door symbolizes an absence of hunger in the household, and presumably for the year to come.

12 grapesGrapes/Raisins: Tradition in Spain says 12 grapes or raisins eaten just before midnight (one at each chime of the clock) will bring good for all 12 months of the year, so long as you finish all 12 before the final stroke!

Greens: Because of their deep emerald color resembling money, healthy, hearty greens like kale, spinach, and collards are believed to bring wealth (and of course, health!) to those who enjoy it early and often in the New Year. For legume or meat-based dishes, a garnish of parsley is also said to ward off evil spirits.

Pork: Bring on the bacon! As pigs root forward while they forage for food (as opposed to cows, who stand still, or chickens, who scratch backwards), pork in all forms is enjoyed by many hoping to embrace the challenges and adventures that await them in the coming year.

Long Noodles: Signifying longevity in Asian culture, a stir-fry of unbroken noodles is a tradition believed to bring good health and luck in the New Year. Those who can eat at least one long noodle without chewing or breaking it is said to enjoy the longest life and best luck of all!

Lentils: Resembling tiny coins, the custom of enjoying lentils in the New Year is a common Italian tradition said to bring wealth.

Cornbread: Golden yellow and inarguably delicious, cornbread is especially popular in the South. Because its color is similar to that of gold, this bread is enjoyed by those hopeful for a prosperous year.

Round Foods: Cakes, pastries, cookies, and round fruits like clementines are often enjoyed on New Year’s Day as their shape signifies the old year has come to a close and the coming days hold the promise of a fresh start.

Whole Fish: In Chinese culture, serving fish whole (both head and tail intact) symbolizes prosperity, abundance, and a good year to come (from start to finish).

No matter how odd different traditions may seem to us, though, these customs share an optimism that’s hard not to appreciate. Out with the old, in with the new!

So no matter where or how you celebrate, Sandman Hotel Group wishes you a very happy and healthy new year. From us to you, may 2014 be full of joy, laughter, and loved ones.
Happy New Year in sparklers