Despite freezing windchills yesterday, hundreds of Calgarians huddled outside the Chinese Cultural Centre to see the traditional lion and dragon dance that is believed to bring good luck and prosperity.

Eighteen lions held up the twirling dragon, which moves to the rhythm of the drums.

The colourful dance is part of Chinese New Year celebrations. The year 4707 begins today.

“It’s the time of the year where we visit each other and wish each other good luck,” said Tony Wong, director of the Chinese Cultural Centre. “It really brings the Chinese community together.”

Officials performed an “eye-dotting ceremony” before the dance, where they painted irises on the lion’s eyes to symbolize them being brought to life. The honour was given to dignitaries representing the consulate general of the People’s Republic of China in Calgary and sponsors of the event.

An estimated 20,000 visitors came to the three-day festival to ring in the Year of the Ox. Along with the dragon dancing, there were folk art demonstrations, singing, Chinese martial arts, Chinese calligraphy and painting, and an indoor bazaar of more than 50 booths selling festival gifts and food.

“It gets bigger and better every year,” said Ho Kong Yung, who has attended celebrations in Calgary with his family since he moved here from Hong Kong as a child.

“It’s exciting to see the new stuff they bring in from China.”

Winston Ho has volunteered at the festival for the past three years, selling “lucky” rice.

“Everything at the beginning of the year is considered lucky,” he said.

Ho’s whole family joins him in volunteering, with his wife and children working in the kitchen. It’s something he looks forward to every year.

“Giving back to the community is great,” he said.

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