The year of the dragon starts on January 23, and this weekend Auckland's Chinese community will begin to celebrate.

When The Aucklander visits, the retired teacher has prepared a table covered with the trappings of Chinese New Year Celebrations.

"In China and Hong Kong we call it Chun Jie, or Spring Festival, because the new year marks the first day of spring. It's the first and most important Chinese festival on the lunar calendar."

She says right now in China, trains will be full as people make their way to family reunions for the all important New Year's Eve banquet. "People will travel a long way so they can all be together for this day." Children are allowed to stay awake until midnight to see in the New Year as it's believed this will give their parents long lives.

She holds up a red envelope covered in gold characters. "On the first day of the year all the children have to dress up nicely and visit their grandparents to wish them a prosperous New Year. The grandparents give them this lai see with money inside for them to buy anything they want."

Children are also offered snacks from the New year candy box; Song has a lacquered red one brimming with treats. Most items associated with the celebration are red as this is the colour of happiness.

She says on the second day of the year, daughters are expected to visit their parents. "And on the third day there is no more visiting because we're very tired and if you visit someone on that day they will be very cross."

In all, Spring Festival celebrations last until the 15th day of the New Year and culminate in lantern festivals. (Auckland's lantern festival begins on February 3).

The Chinese lunar calendar cycles through 12 animals, and 2012 is the year of the dragon. Song says the dragon is a particularly auspicious animal as it represents authority, royalty and strength. "Everyone wants to have a dragon baby; it's a very important year. In China a lot of young couples will rush to have a baby this year."

Song recalls feeling homesick for new year celebrations during her early years in New Zealand. "At that time there were only about 30,000 Chinese in the country. Now there are around 140,000 and we have lots of Chinese organisations which put on celebrations. Unfortunately, in New Zealand we don't have a holiday for the New Year."

Song goes every year to the festival and market day at the ASB showgrounds and the lantern festival in Albert Park. This New Year's Eve she, her husband, younger son and close friends will dine together at a Chinese restaurant.

"We feel very happy being in New Zealand because there are so many chances to celebrate our culture."

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