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Chinese Lunar New Year: a time for hope and family

The Chinese New Year officially began on Monday. This year marks the year of the monkey, an animal characterized as intelligent, witty, curious, and playful.

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    A family dressed in traditional Chinese clothes celebrates the Chinese New Year in Chinatown in Bangkok, Thailand on Monday.
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Monday marks the start of the year of the monkey and the opening of the Chinese Lunar New Year, a celebration of living family, ancestors, and good fortune in the year ahead.

Known as the Spring Festival in China, it is the most important holiday in the country and in Chinese communities around the world. The New Year celebration is a week-long public holiday that closes schools and businesses. It is also one of the busiest travel periods in countries with large Chinese populations, as students and workers return home to spend time with their extended families.

In an unpleasant reminder of Christmas-holiday travel in the United States, 100,000 people were trapped in the main railway station in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou's on Feb. 1 as bad weather caused massive train delays, Time reported.

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But once people reached their families, they took to temples and holiday fairs to pray for good health and fortune on Monday. Hundreds of thousands of people visited traditional fairs in the parks of Beijing, and Buddhist and Taoist temples that held singing and dance performances and craft markets.

Meng Su was waiting to light incense at the Tibetan Buddhist Lama Temple in central Beijing, a popular tradition that is meant to attract good luck.

"Chinese people revere the power of nature and believe in gods, so we hope to express our blessings and that the gods can hear us," Ms. Meng, a travel agent, told the Associated Press. "It's also a way for us to find some comfort."

Comfort is also found around the dinner table, as extended family gathers for a feast on New Year’s Eve that traditionally includes fish as a last course, as it is considered a symbol of abundance that is not meant to be eaten, as The History Channel explains. People do eat long noodles in the first several days of the new year as a symbol of long life. On the final day of the celebration, families traditionally eat dumplings shaped like the full moon to honor the family unit and perfection.

Although China follows the Gregorian calendar, the ancient Chinese calendar, based on lunar phases, solar solstices, and equinoxes, remains traditionally significant, and so every year, around the new moon closest to the beginning of spring, Chinese people honor the beginning of a new, annual cycle.

The festivities usually start the day before the new year and last until the Lantern Festival that falls on the 15th day of the new year.

Each new year is marked by one of 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

This year is marked by the monkey, characterized as intelligent, witty, curious, mischievous, and playful.

The last year of the monkey was in 2004. The next will fall on 2028.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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