A month of festivities in New York's Chinatown began this week in celebration of the lunar New Year of the Horse. Organizers hope the events will revive the neighborhood's economy, ailing since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Mott Street winds through the heart of New York City's Chinatown. Like the rest of the neighborhood, the thoroughfare used to bustle with tourists and shoppers.
But since September 11, Mott Street, which is just minutes from where the World Trade Center once stood, has been unrecognizably quiet. It has not yet recovered financially from the disaster.
Now with the start of the lunar New Year, local leaders are hoping Chinatown's economy and vibrant character will revive.
Festive red lanterns and colorful banners decorate the neighborhood streets. Concerts and parades are ongoing.
Community activist Don Lee says the activities are designed to encourage visitors to return to one of the city's traditional tourist destinations, which is home to an estimated 150,000 Chinese immigrants.
"I think it will remind tourists, it will remind all of us to be active," he said. "It reminds tourists that it is a happy occasion. It reminds everyone in New York that there are many different neighborhoods that make New York great and we are one of them. And we are here to celebrate and we want to invite everyone to come down and to join us in celebrating Chinese New Year."
Mr. Lee says it is fitting that the celebrations mark the year 4700, the Year of the Horse. He says, the horse represents strength, speed and vitality, qualities needed to help Chinatown's economic recovery.
Drawing crowds helps too. Thousands clogged Mott Street, closed to traffic for the first of dozens of traditional Lion's Dance parades.
To the beat of the cymbals and drums, the dancers dressed as giant lions twist and turn in cat-like movements that depict a Buddhist folktale.
Wide-eyed children perched on their parents' shoulders watch the dancers. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also paid a visit, addressing a local Chinese-American community center on Mott Street.
"Whereas lunar New Year is a special occasion for Asian-Americans, the day is a time for reflection, warmth and cheerfulness," he said. "And [it is] an opportunity to keep traditions alive and to share them with family and friends. New Yorkers from every background join the vibrant Asian-American community in celebrating the lunar New Year and look forward to a year of peace and good will."
The Lion's Dance Parades are a favorite for both local and out of town visitors. The dancers visit shopkeepers who give them red envelopes stuffed with money to buy good luck for the upcoming year. This year, the storeowners say good luck is particularly needed.
Peter Chuong is selling hand-held drums to tourists.
He says he hopes the lunar New Years celebration will help his business - selling Chinese slippers, fans and toys - recover from a 50 percent loss during the past five months.
Gloria Wong works at her family's bakery. She says this is the first time that business has picked up on Mott Street since the September 11 attack. She hopes it continues even after the festivities.
"After 9-11 the business [has been] so slow, with basically no one on the street," he said. "So it is pretty quiet compared to today. It is pretty busy." Marta Avellaneda, who lives in Uruguay, is in New York on vacation. She brought her young daughter to Chinatown to get a taste of a different culture.
"It is a lot of fun for us," he said. "We live in South America and we do not have a Chinese population there, so we do not see this type of thing. So we followed the lions around. You know, they sort of bring good luck to each different store. It is very colorful. We like it."
Some local Asian-American visitors point out that although this year's festivities brought the crowds back to Mott Street, they are a bit more subdued than in past years. And, there are no fireworks, which were banned in 1997.
But they say they will continue to bring their children to Chinatown during the lunar New Year to pass down a unique cultural heritage and hope for a better year.