Asia begins Lunar New Year celebrations

Chinese New Year

Devotees light candles on the eve of the Chinese New Year at the Lungshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. According to the Lunar calendar, Chinese will celebrate the Lunar New Year on Feb. 19 this year which marks the Year of the Sheep. (AP Photo/Wally Santana) Devotees light candles on the eve of the Chinese New Year at the Lungshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. According to the Lunar calendar, Chinese will celebrate the Lunar New Year on Feb. 19 this year which marks the Year of the Sheep. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Thousands of people crowded markets in Hong Kong and Hanoi, Vietnam on Wednesday as the start of the Lunar New Year drew closer.

Unlike neighboring China, which celebrates the Year of the Sheep, Vietnam is welcoming the goat, the zodiac animal that represents the Vietnamese lunar calendar in 2015.

The lunar New Year, known in Vietnam as Tet, falls on 19 February this year. According to Vietnamese belief, the goat is the symbol of patience and peace.

In the old quarter of Hanoi, streets were buzzing with people shopping for decorative items bearing images of the goat in red and gold, the colors believed to bring good luck and wealth.

The goats are also popularly featured on red envelops, traditionally used to contain lucky money for exchange during Tet. In Vietnam, peach flowers signal the arrival of spring and are the common decorative flowers during the New Year.

In Hong Kong, stalls were traditionally set up to sell plum blossoms and seasonal food and gifts. Many of the goods on sale featured the sheep, the zodiac animal of the coming lunar new year. This year sheep and goats are interchangeable in the Asian world, as they represent similar qualities and traditions, stemming from the same family of animals. There will be a three-day public holiday to mark the New Year, which starts at midnight on Thursday.

Decades ago the Chinese New Year holiday, also known as Spring Festival, had little impact outside of China. As the country gained economic influence, the holiday, which has enormous cultural significance in the Chinese-speaking community has rippled throughout the entire world.

Report from The Associated Press