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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chinese Welcome Year of the Horse

BEIJING -- Millions clapped their hands in prayer and burned incense sticks at Buddhist and Taoist temples across the Chinese-speaking world Tuesday as part of celebrations to usher in the lunar Year of the Horse.

The visits followed a night of popping firecrackers, clanging gongs and colorful dragon dances in cities and Chinatowns throughout Asia. Images of horses -- a symbol of strength and success -- appeared on skyscrapers, billboards and parade floats around the region.

In some areas, the approach of midnight on Monday -- and with it the year 2002 by the traditional lunar calendar -- brought a roar of firework explosions strong enough to rattle windows and shake homes.

Beijing's night sky burst with color as residents set off private displays of fireworks, ignoring a ban that outlawed fireworks in all but a few public places.

It was quieter Tuesday morning, when thousands gathered within the red-painted walls of the Yonghegong Buddhist temple -- one of several in the Chinese capital thronged with revelers.

Children were dressed in head-to-toe red, blue or yellow satin embroidered suits. Adults also wore brightly colored Chinese jackets as they placed incense sticks into large bronze cauldrons and summoned the gods by clapping their hands. Traditional prayers call for health, wealth and a peaceful life.

In Shanghai, cell phone networks struggled to keep up with almost 4 million calls and messages from well-wishers in the 30 minutes around midnight, the Jiefang Daily newspaper reported.

Hong Kong's stock and gold markets shut down for three days Tuesday, bringing the busy financial center to a halt. Tens of thousands lined downtown streets to see a parade featuring lion dancers, dragon floats and the San Francisco 49ers cheerleaders.

In Taiwan, millions prayed at Buddhist and Taoist temples amid incense smoke, food offerings and horse-shaped lanterns, and a lottery was held in Bangkok, Thailand, to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Chinatown. For good luck, Thais pinned lottery tickets onto a huge dragon with a gold-painted head and 700-meter red plastic tail.

South Korea marked the first day of the lunar New Year by briefly opening a train station near its fortified border with North Korea. About 650 South Koreans, many weeping and bowing toward the North, traveled by train to pray for relatives in North Korea they haven't seen since the 1950-53 Korean War.