Millions of people throughout the world are celebrating the first day of the lunar year of the horse. In Asia, parades and spectacular fireworks are a part of the festivities, as are prayers for a more peaceful new year.

Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong ushered in the Year of the Horse Tuesday with a grand parade, featuring ornate dragon floats and whirling lion dancers.

Few in Hong Kong are reluctant to mark the end of the Snake year that preceded the Horse. For the past year, the Chinese territory, like many countries in Asia, has been struggling to recover from a devastating economic slump made worse by the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

With some Chinese astrologers predicting more global volatility this year, millions of people in Hong Kong and Taiwan are also visiting Buddhist and Taoist temples to pray for luck.

One Hong Kong man, visiting a Taoist temple in Kowloon Tuesday, says praying for luck at the temple is something he does every new year. But this year, he says, he is praying especially hard for better times ahead.

In mainland China, where the economy has continued to soar, despite the global slowdown, lunar celebrations began Monday night, with spectacular public fireworks. State-run television also ran hours of patriotic shows, featuring uniformed army choirs and costumed children waving Chinese flags.

At the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji declared 2001 a year of great accomplishments for China. Last year, China was granted entry into the World Trade Organization, and its capital, Beijing, won the coveted bid to host the summer Olympic Games in 2008.

In South Korea, the government kicked off new year celebrations by briefly reopening a train station just outside the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone with communist North Korea.

About 650 people, many of them elderly, took the 85-minute train ride from Seoul to look across the border and remember relatives, separated since the peninsula was divided in 1945. Some wept as they bowed toward North Korea and prayed for a peaceful unification.

Chinese New Year celebrations date back more than 4,000 years. It is popularly recognized as the Spring Festival, and celebrations last 15 days.