Fireworks, prayers greet Year of the Tiger

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The Independent Online

From Sydney to Pyongyang, fireworks, lion dances and prayers for good fortune ushered in the Year of the Tiger on Sunday as a cold snap across China failed to dampen celebrations.

Fireworks lit up the skies over Beijing's Forbidden City, Shanghai's riverfront Bund and Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City while in Sydney a traditional lion dance captivated thousands of onlookers.

Snow covered rooftops in China's biggest city, Shanghai, as a cold front swept over the country at the start of the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, the nation's most important holiday.

The National Meteorological Administration warned that heavy snow was expected on the east coast while freezing rain lashed parts of the south.

The weather threatened chaos in China as millions travelled to be with their families around the vast nation of 1.3 billion, an exodus believed to be the world's largest annual human migration.

Authorities are hoping there will be no repeat of the massive cold wave and freezing rain that crippled transport systems and stranded millions during the 2008 festival.

Despite rain and near freezing temperatures, the queue at Jing'An Temple, one of Shanghai's oldest, stretched around the block as people burned incense and prayed for wealth, health and happiness in the year to come.

In Taiwan, the faithful gathered at midnight at temples across the island seeking blessings, while others queued outside department stores for lucky draws with prizes ranging from cars to diamonds to massage chairs.

President Ma Ying-jeou visited the famed Dharma Drum Mountain temple in northern Taiwan to pray for "social harmony and cross-Strait peace and prosperity" - reiterating his hopes of ending tension with mainland China.

A temple in Taipei county enshrining the God of Fortune in the shape of a tiger was especially popular, Taiwanese media reported.

Despite rainy skies and a thick blanket of fog enveloping Hong Kong, an annual Chinese New Year parade featuring elaborate floats and musical performances was due to go ahead.

In Sydney, which claims to have the largest Lunar New Year event outside Asia with a 17-day festival, six couples from Beijing and Shanghai marked both the New Year and Valentine's Day by climbing the Harbour Bridge at dawn.

Despite rain, the 12 climbed 134 metres (442 feet) above Sydney Harbour to declare their love and shout the Chinese New Year greeting "Congratulations and be prosperous," organisers said.

In Hanoi, where the New Year is known as Tet, Vietnam's most important annual festival, traffic became jammed as people bought traditional kumquat trees and peach blossoms.

In Malaysia, where relations between the Muslim Malay majority and minorities including ethnic Chinese have come under strain, Prime Minister Najib Razak encouraged all Malaysians to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

"We must be bold and more courageous in getting to know our neighbours better and be more dynamic and committed in the workplace, so as to contribute to the betterment of society and the country," he said.

In South Korea, millions journeyed over snow-covered and slippery roads to their home towns or villages to pay their respects to ancestors.

In North Korea, soldiers, workers and children bowed deeply as they laid flowers in front of statues of the country's late founder Kim Il Sung, the official KCNA news agency said.

The prime minister of Singapore, which opened its first casino Sunday in time for the New Year, urged citizens to make more babies and ignore superstitions that children born in the Year of the Tiger will have the animal's attributes.

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI offered greetings to the millions celebrating the Lunar New Year, praising the occasion to "strengthen family and generational bonds," after reciting his weekly Angelus prayer.

In a statement issued in Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered "warm wishes" to those celebrating the occasion.

Babies born in the Year of the Tiger are believed to be independent and strong, but superstition also holds that it is a bad year for marriages and for those who do tie the knot, the husband may die before the wife.

"Tiger years are typically marked by dramatic changes and even upheaval and 2010, much like the tiger itself, sees an energetic and powerful, but impulsive and risky year ahead," independent brokerage CLSA wrote in a tongue-in-cheek research note.

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