The Chinese New Year - the Year of the Water Snake - has been welcomed worldwide with spectacular fireworks displays, none bigger than in Beijing, where people braved freezing temperatures to usher in the lunar New Year, bursting firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.

The New Year is, understandably, a most important day for Chinese. Families whose members are spread across the world, thanks to globalisation, reunite for this occasion, much as the West does at Christmas. The BBC reports that an estimated 200 million people have returned to China, in what is believed to be one of the biggest planned human migrations.

The Legend of the Snake

Chinese mythology considers the snake a powerful creature. A popular myth says being close to a person of this particular zodiac brings renewed energy to one's life.

The Snake is associated with the element of fire (Chinese mythology has five primary alchemical elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water), and is therefore believed to generate positive feelings of light, warmth and comfort. However, like fire, it is also associated with the negative quality of burning when treated without respect.

Snakes are also associated with karmic signs and Chinese astrology says that karmic problems are common among people born under this zodiac. Therefore, people must try and strike a balance between their emotions and actions to avoid problems with Karma.

The Chinese and Firecrackers

Festivities in China will continue over the next few days and expect the night skies to be lit with various hues of dazzling fireworks. The association between the Chinese culture and fireworks is a very strong one; after all, it was the Chinese who invented gunpowder and, indeed, fireworks themselves.

However, this year the Beijing government has urged citizens to consider the environment before indulging in extensive fireworks displays. The country is already facing severe air pollution problems, with ITV reporting that over 30 cities have reported "hazardous" pollution levels.

People may be taking note: although in Beijing alone, nearly 300,000 cartons were sold over the four days up to midnight on 9 February, the figure is 37 percent down on last year.

The Chinese New Year celebrations have attracted a fair share of celebrities from across the world, and Canadian singer Celine Dion is to perform classic Chinese folk songs with local star Song Zuying. She will, of course, also sing My Heart Will Go On, a song from the 1997 hit film Titanic (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), which catapulted her to global stardom.

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