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The Lunar New Year of the Dragon flames colorful festivities across Asian nations and communities

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — With fireworks, feasts and red envelopes stuffed with cash for the kids, numerous Asian nations and overseas communities have welcomed Saturday the Lunar New Year.

It begins with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends 15 days later on the first full moon. The dates of the holiday vary slightly each year, falling between late January and mid-February as it is based on the cycles of the moon,

Festivities to mark the Year of the Dragon in Taiwan were marked by appearances by newly elected president Lai Ching-te and the speaker of the Legislature, Han Kuo-yu, who represents the opposition Nationalist Party that favors political unification with China.

In her address, Tsai said Taiwan faced a continuing conflict between “freedom and democracy versus authoritarianism” that “not only affects geopolitical stability, but also impacts the restructuring of global supply chains.”

“These past eight years, we have kept our promises and maintained the status quo. We have also shown our determination and strengthened our national defense,” Tsai, who is barred by term limits from seeking a third four-year term, said in reference to the self-governing island democracy's close economic ties but fraught political relations with China which threatens to invade the island to realize its goal of bringing Taiwan and its high-tech economy under its control.

Taiwan, China and other areas saw highways clogged and flights fully booked as residents traveled home to visit family or took the approximately one-week holiday as an opportunity to vacation abroad.

Firing bottle rockets and other fireworks is a traditional way of welcoming the new year and seeing off any lingering bad memories. Children are given red envelopes stuffed with cash as a show of affection and to help them get a leg-up in the coming months.

Long lines of cars congested South Korean highways on Saturday as millions of people began leaving the densely populated Seoul capital region to visit relatives across the country for the Lunar New Year’s holiday.

Royal palaces and other tourist sites were also packed with visitors wearing the country’s colorful traditional “hanbok” flowing robes. Groups of aging North Korean refugees from the 1950-53 civil war, which remains unresolved, bowed northward during traditional family rituals held in the Southern border town of Paju.

The holiday came amid heightened tensions with North Korea, which has been ramping up its tests of weapons aimed at overwhelming regional missile defenses and issuing provocative threats of nuclear conflict with the South.

The South's President Yoon Suk Yeol started the holiday by issuing a message of thanks to South Korean soldiers, saying that their services along the “frontline barbwires, sea and sky” were allowing the nation to enjoy the holidays.

Vietnam also celebrated the Lunar New Year, known there as Tet.

Parades and commemorations are also being held in cities with large Asian communities overseas, particularly in New York and San Francisco.