Chinese New Year begins amid storms

Lunar New Year celebrations were kicked off in Sydney under a blanket of rain and amid thunderstorms.

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Crowds at Belmore Park went ahead with the launch anyway to celebrate the arrival of the Year of the Tiger, with lion dances, Chinese food from dozens of food stalls and Chinese performances.

Among special attractions were artists from Chongqing City in China who performed an ancient face-changing ritual.

Organisers bill Australia’s celebrations as the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside Asia, with a 17-day cultural festival in Sydney ending in a spectacular twilight parade.

More than 600,000 people attended last year’s festival, and creative director Gill Minervini said the party to welcome the Year of the Tiger would include more than 60 events including tea ceremonies and dragon boat racing.

“It’s a cultural festival rather than a one day, New Year celebration,” Minervini told AFP of the February 12 to 28 events.

Minervini, who has directed Lunar New Year celebrations in Sydney for 11 years, said the Tiger was one of the most exciting symbols to work with.

“It’s probably one of the most accessible astrological signs of all because everybody can understand the characteristics of the tiger – leadership, stealth,” she said.

Snow could disrupt new year in China

But while ran marred the beginning of festivities in Sydney, China has warned that huge rain and snow storms will hit the north of the country this weekend on the eve of Lunar New Year, spelling potential travel chaos as millions head home by rail and road.

The Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, is China’s most important holiday, reuniting families around the vast nation and triggering an exodus believed to be the world’s largest annual human migration.

China’s Meteorological Administration said on Friday a cold front that forced airport and highway closures across the north on Thursday had eased off a little, but would return with a bang on Saturday.

“From New Year’s Eve on the 13th, large-scale rain and snow will return,” the agency warned.

“Everyone must make preparations for rain, snow and falling temperatures when returning home or going out to visit relatives and friends,” it added.

Authorities are hoping to avoid a repeat of the chaos seen when a massive cold wave and freezing rain hit southern and central China in 2008, crippling transport systems and stranding millions just as the travel rush got under way.