UK & World News
China Ushers In Year Of The Snake
Across Asia and beyond, well over one billion people have welcomed in the Lunar New Year, this year represented by the snake.
In China, the traditional heart of what is also known as Chinese New Year, one fifth of the world's population marked the close of the Year of the Dragon and the dawn of a new year with all the traditional fanfare.
In the capital Beijing, fireworks have been echoing in the skies for hours. Traditionally set off to ward off evil spirits, they are sold and lit on almost every main street corner.
Beijing's Temple of the Earth Park has been transformed into a sea of red lanterns. Crowds are gathered around traditional dance performances.
Hundreds of stalls sell food, drinks, toys, souvenirs and snake-themed items of an apparently infinite variety.
Food and family are the two dominant themes for Chinese New Year.
In the park we met An Ying and her parents. She lives in Beijing but is originally from Inner Mongolia.
Her parents have travelled to Beijing to be with her; a break with tradition which usually dictates that younger generations travel back to their family home.
"I will celebrate with my family here in Beijing and we will gather to watch the gala on television," she told me.
The New Year gala is a long-standing institution in China. Broadcast on state television it is a celebration of the year with performances from comedians, singers and musicians.
This year Celine Dion became the first non-Chinese person to perform at the gala singing her Titanic hit "My Heart Will Go On".
Through the day families have been absorbing the atmosphere, the colour and the sounds in the frozen temperatures.
Some carry inflatable or stuffed toy snakes and the more superstitious will be wondering what the coming year will bring. There is significantly less affection for the snake than there was for last year's rather more auspicious dragon.
Fearful that the Year of the Snake might bring with it all that the slithering reptile represents, there has been a rush of weddings and attempts at carefully planned births to ensure they fell within the last year and not the coming one.
In an attempt to overcome people's suspicions, the toy snakes produced for the new year all seem to sport unusually happy or smiley faces.
The less superstitious insist that the snake does have its value. Some refer to the snake as the little dragon. It is said that children born in the year of the snake will be rational, organised and intelligent.
The lunar calendar follows a 12-year cycle with 12 animals representing each year.
As dusk falls on Chinese New Years Eve, the tradition is to gather at the family home and watch the gala before eating a meal together at midnight.
For a country that has changed beyond recognition over the past three decades, the desire to stick to tradition is still remarkably strong though there are increasing signs of strains every year.
As the Chinese middle class grows with more money to spend, many are opting to travel abroad for the break rather than to spend it with families.
But for the traditionalists who have stayed at home and travelled to see families, the festivities will draw to a close at the end of the week with the traditional Lantern Festival.