New York's Chinatown is gearing up for Chinese New Year. Foods are being prepared, decorations hung and last minute rehearsals are being held for the festival and parade that will draw residents and visitors alike. Residents say it is the largest Chinatown in the United States.
Dancers are rehearsing a millennium-old Chinese tradition - the Lion Dance. It will be the finale of Chinatown's annual New Year parade at the end of January and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.
"The Lion Dance brings good luck, prosperity, wealth," noted Dance Director Mike Lee who has been performing it for 20 years.
Volunteers are made up of students and young professionals. They perform the dance as a tribute to their heritage.
"You want to pass it along to each generation," added Lee. "It's part of the Chinese culture and you don't want to put something like this on the backburner and not carry it on."
The Year of the Dragon arrives midnight Sunday. The dragon is a Chinese zodiac sign, considered to be the emperor's. It represents strength, benevolence and good luck.
In Chinatown's Columbus Park, residents play cards and tile games. Across the street, cooks are preparing traditional foods, like dumplings.
The dumpling is a Chinese staple especially on the New Year.
Jenny Pelson shares her customs with her husband and sons.
"Four of us, my sisters and I, wrap dumplings together," said Pelson. "We make a whole day of it, and it's fun to be with family."
Dumplings are a comfort food that symbolizes wealth. Some think, if you eat them on the New Year, it can herald prosperity.
A few blocks away, children are learning about the Chinese zodiac while making animal puppets at the Museum of Chinese in America.
Margaret Riley, an intern, leads a lesson. She says the focus on togetherness transcends Chinese culture.
"What's really important during Lunar New Year comes down to the family and the community and coming together and celebrating the customs and traditions, even if you're not Chinese," Riley noted.
Back at the rehearsal, Mike and his team work at perfecting the dance that will be performed for crowds as diverse as New York City itself.