The biggest show in Beijing for the past few years has finally opened Friday - with a three-and-a-half hour Olympic opening ceremony extravaganza. Meanwhile, Chinese people also took personal advantage of what many of them believe is a lucky day.  Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

After billions of dollars and seven years of preparation, the big day has come - the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

The Chinese government declared Friday a holiday, which meant streets were emptier than usual.  Ordinary people have been encouraged to stay home and watch the festivities on TV.

Chinese President Hu Jintao welcomed dozens of leaders from all over the world to a special celebration luncheon.

Hu toasted to the development of international Olympic sports, the strengthening of friendship and unity among
nations, and, of course, to everyone's health.

He said the Chinese government and people have been fulfilling the promises made to the international
community when Beijing was chosen to host the games.

The Beijing games have been among the most politically contentious in history, and have attracted protests on a range of issues - such as Tibet, human rights, religious freedom and the Sudanese region of Darfur.

Another major issue was completely free and unhindered Internet access for journalists covering the Olympics.

After last minute talks between Chinese and International Olympic Committee officials last week, China lifted blocks on most websites.  But it still bans access to sites it deems illegal, such as those relating to the banned group Falun Gong.

Many Chinese people consider the number eight to be lucky, and for them, Friday - the eighth day of the eighth month of year 2008 - was an especially lucky day.

This young groom came with his bride to the Chongwen District offices to register to be married.

He says they especially picked this date.  They hope China's hosting of the Olympics is successful.

The Chongwen District office's Wang Deshan says the office usually registers 20 to 30 marriages per day.  He says more than 600 are expected on Friday.

Wang says a lot of people chose this day to register their marriages, first as a good wish for the Olympics.

Back on the Olympic Green, Jeff Ruffolo, an American and a senior adviser to the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, says everything is in place.

"We are ready.  We are beyond ready," he said.

The opening ceremony features more than 10,000 performers and kicks off the 16-day international sporting event.