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AP PHOTOS: Asia welcomes Lunar New Year of the Dragon with temple visits and celebrations

People across Asia welcomed the Lunar New Year on Saturday with family gatherings, festivals and temple visits to ask for blessings.

The Lunar New Year is the most important annual holiday in China, a time for reunions with relatives and friends and to enjoy festive feasts. Each year is named after one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, with this year being the Year of the Dragon — widely considered the most auspicious zodiac sign in Chinese communities.

The Year of the Dragon is also a popular year to give birth for Chinese because many couples hope their children will possess remarkable qualities symbolized by dragons, including strength, power and success.

Many residents of Hong Kong dressed in red, a lucky color in Chinese culture, to mark the start of the year. In gatherings, they savored rice cakes and turnip cakes, with children receiving cash-stuffed red envelopes as blessings from their married relatives. Outdoor exhibitions and floral displays prepared for the festival offered a chance for revelers to pose for photos.

In Beijing, crowds of people flocked to temple fairs to see traditional folk performances and bought snacks and artwork from booths. Many lit incense sticks to pray for good health and fortune.

Along with the predominantly Chinese societies in the Greater China region, the festival is also celebrated in South Korea, Vietnam and in overseas Chinese communities. In Myanmar and Malaysia, worshippers visited temples to pray for good luck and blessings. In Dharamshala, India, exiled Tibetan monks also took part in ceremonies to mark their new year.