China celebrates the Lunar New Year this week with family gatherings, fireworks, and traditional temple fairs. Many Chinese astrologers say 2007 is the year of the "golden pig," a lucky year to have children but other fortune tellers say the year could bring disaster. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.
China exploded in celebration this weekend as citizens rang in the Lunar New Year.
This was the first year in decades in which fireworks were allowed in most cities in China. Residents in Beijing took advantage of the new rules by flooding into the streets to light off a barrage of explosive lights and sounds, covering the streets with cardboard and paper shrapnel and blocking traffic.
The New Year is the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar and sees the largest migration of people in the world as hundreds of millions return to their hometowns to spend the New Year with family.
In cities, hundreds of thousands of people flock to parks and temple grounds to attend quasi-religious carnivals called temple fairs.
Temple fairs are known for their colorful music and dance performances as well as snack and souvenir sellers.
The fairs, like most events in China, have become quite commercial, but there is still an overarching theme of traditional religion.
Although the officially atheist Communist Party runs China, traditional beliefs are widely practiced. A recent national survey said 300 million Chinese are religious, three times the official estimate.
The Ditan park temple fair in central Beijing features a recreation of Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong offering sacrifices to the god of the earth.
Chinese also burn incense and pray at Buddhist and Taoist temples, asking for wealth, good luck, and happiness.
At the Ditan park temple fair an online dating service has set up a matchmaking event - parents of single children hang their photo resumes on clotheslines to advertise for potential mates.
Miao is 60-years-old and is trying to find a suitor for her 26-year-old daughter.
She says her daughter's office is full of women and she is too busy to find a boyfriend. Miao says she is not in a hurry for her daughter to marry, but hopes she can find a suitable mate who will make her happy.
Many Chinese want to their children to be born this year because some astrologers say this is a "golden pig" year, which only comes around once every 60 years. Chinese mystics say children born this year are supposed to have easy and happy lives.
But many Chinese fortune tellers, especially in the southern city of Hong Kong, warn this actually is a fire pig year - dominated by the natural but conflicting elements fire and water. They say that means 2007 will see an increase in worldwide natural disasters and violence.