China celebrates the Lunar New Year

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People across China rang in the Lunar New Year on Sunday with large family gatherings and crowds visiting temples after the government lifted its strict “zero-COVID” policy, marking the biggest festive celebration since the pandemic began three years ago.

The Lunar New Year is the most important annual holiday in China. Each year is named after one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac in a repeating cycle, with this year being the Year of the Rabbit. For the past three years, celebrations were muted in the shadow of the pandemic.

Many people finally made their trip back to their hometowns to reunite with their families without worrying about the hassles of quarantine, potential lockdowns and suspension of travel. Larger public celebrations also returned for what is known as the Spring Festival in China, with the capital hosting thousands of cultural events — on a larger scale than a year ago.

These Lunar New Year dishes remind those who make them of their family and friends

In Beijing, many worshippers offered morning prayers at the Lama Temple but the crowds appeared to be smaller compared to pre-pandemic days. The Tibetan Buddhist site allows up to 60,000 visitors a day, citing safety reasons, and requires an advance reservation.

Throngs of residents and tourists swarmed pedestrian streets in the Qianmen area near Tiananmen Square. Many of them enjoyed snacks from barbecue and New Year rice cake stands, and some children wore traditional Chinese rabbit hats. Others held blown sugar or marshmallows shaped like rabbits. Agencies