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Friday, 4 February, 2000, 17:40 GMT
In Pictures: Preparing for the dragon year

Asians around the world are preparing to celebrate the Year of the Dragon on Saturday, at the start of the lunar new year.

Dragon facts
The dragon is the luckiest sign to be born under
Dragons are supposed to be fun-loving and full of life, but can be eccentric and are susceptible to flattery
Dragons traditionally make good priests, artists or politicians
They are said to be blessed with virtue, riches, harmony and longevity
The dragon is traditionally the most powerful animal in the Chinese zodiac, but this year is particularly lucky as it is a Golden Dragon Year - an auspicious event that occurs once every 60 years.

It is also considered doubly significant because the festivities coincide with a millennium year, an occurrence that will not happen again for another 3,000 years.

For Chinese around the world the new year celebrations are as important as Christmas is in the West.

Huge effort is put into decorating houses and temples with red and gold - representing good luck and prosperity - the most prominent colours.

Another traditional ornament are the "da arfu" or "lucky fatties" dolls, a symbol of fortune and happiness.

Millions in China and across the Asia-Pacific region have been travelling home to spend the festivities with their families.

More than 150,000 people a day have passed through Beijing railway station in the run-up to festivities, part of an estimated 129 million expected to use the country's rail network during the holiday period.

Dragon dancers are a regular feature of Chinese New Year celebrations across the world. There is often keen competition for the longest and most elaborately-dressed dragon.

Hospitals across the Chinese world are bracing themselves for a predicted baby boom as couples take advantage on the traditional good luck associated with a Dragon Year.

In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, members of the Chinese community have been donating traditional "ang pau" money to the city's poor.

For the first time in more than 30 years, Chinese Indonesians are legally entitled to openly celebrate the new year. The ban was imposed by former President Suharto in response to perceived Chinese-backing of a 1967 attempted communist coup.

For Bangkok's Chinese community, as elsewhere, local temples are the focal point of celebrations.

Burning fragrant joss sticks, often in huge handfuls, is considered one way of ensuring good fortune in the coming year.

In Vietnam, where the lunar new year celebrations are known as Tet, peach blossom is traditionally planted to welcome in the new year.
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See also:
04 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
New year appeal for quake survivors
28 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Taiwan takes fizz out of fireworks

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