Key Points:

    Chinese New Year - the Year of the Rooster - starts tomorrow, but celebrations begins tonight and will continue right until the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the new year.

Here's to a prosperous Year of the Rooster

■ Welcoming the New Year

Stay up as late as possible tonight. New Year's Eve symbolises the link between two years, and prolonging the connection is believed to extend life.

■ Don't eat chicken, don't wear black

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Don't eat chicken tonight or tomorrow so as not to offend the rooster. Put away your replica All Black jersey and wear something red or colourful. Black and white clothes are associated with mourning.

■ Don't wash your hair or sweep the floor

Hair has the same pronunciation as the word for prosperity in Chinese, and washing hair is seen as washing away good fortune. It is believed that if you use a broom on the day, then you'd be sweeping your luck away.

■ Put away sharp objects

Use of knives or scissors is a no-no because it is seen as "cutting away wealth".

■ Rice jar

Fill your rice jar or bread bin, because an empty food storage receptacle is seen as a bad omen.

■ Debt

Pay all debts before the stroke of midnight tonight, it is believed that if you carry your debt into the Chinese New Year you will face a life of owing money to others.

Chinese New Year - the Year of the Rooster - starts tomorrow, but celebrations begins tonight and will continue right until the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the new year.

Thousands of Chinese in New Zealand will be joining more than a billion around the world tonight in welcoming the new year with reunion dinners, parties and prayers.

But for one Auckland family the festival will also a time when the family "dances" together.

Chinese mother Tracy Tam, 39, her husband Andy Chan, 40, and children Melody, 14 and Maco Leung, 11, are members of the Epacs Lion and Dragon Dance troupe.

Performed in a Chinese lion costume and accompanied by beating drums, gongs and cymbals, the dance is believed to bring luck and good fortune.

"No Chinese New Year celebration is complete without lion dance, and for our family it has become not just part of our celebrations, but part of our lives," Tam said.

With a rapidly growing Chinese population, Chinese New Year is growing in popularity here. So too is the demand for lion dance performances.

The Epacs troupe will be involved in over 60 performances - from restaurants, hotels, suburban Chinese New Year events to the Auckland Lantern Festival.

As a "disciple" and right hand woman to lion dance master and troupe founder Peter Low, Tam's role is to ensure each performance goes on without a hitch.

"It is getting more and more complicated each year, and on some days we have to juggle with getting several groups out when performances clash," said Tam, who has been practising the art for more than 10 years.

With performers as young as 6, the Epacs troupe is believed to have some of the youngest lion and dragon dancers in the world.

"This adds to the complication because it means we need to involve a lot of the parents with the planning too," Tam said.

She first signed up for lion dancing as a way of getting her children into the art.

"Lion dance teaches discipline, and that is a big reason why I wanted my children involved at first," Tam said.

"But now I am proud to be a lion dancer, and my family too, because it is a great way for us to share our Chinese culture with all of New Zealand."

Last week, thousands celebrated in Auckland as Prime Minister Bill English officially launched Chinese New Year celebrations at the ASB Showgrounds.

The Year of the Rooster officially starts tomorrow.

This evening, dragon and lion dancing will be performed at SkyCity in central Auckland before firecrackers are let off.

Crowds are also expected at Fo Guang Shan in Manukau, the country's largest Buddhist temple, for a prayer service and offering "first incense" at midnight to welcome the new year.

Tomorrow, many will return to SkyCity to watch Cai Shen Ye, the Chinese god of fortune, descend from the Sky Tower via skyjump and more firecrackers.

The lantern festival, which marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations, is attended by about 200,000 people each year.

This year the Auckland lantern festival will be held at the Domain from February 9 to 12.

Feng shui chef Janet Chan said this was an important time for people to "eat your way to good luck".

Food is the cornerstone of the celebration and takes a strong presence in new year festivities.

Over the 15 days, Chinese believe that eating food with symbolism relating to longevity, wealth and fortune will set them right for the year ahead.

"Individuals can be the masters of their own fortunes," said Chan.

Chan said eating or avoiding certain types of food during the festival were believed to affect wealth and fortune.

This year whole chicken - which traditionally is served to symbolise a proper start and end to the year - must be avoided tonight and tomorrow.

"Serving chicken on New Year's Eve or Day can potentially offend the spirit of the rooster," Chan said.

"It could mean a year of best luck, so it is something that should be avoided as far as possible."

But "must-eat" foods include whole fish for a year of abundance, noodles for long life and prawns for a year of joy and laughter.

Shellfish, such as crab and lobster, are eaten to receive the power and energy of the dragon.

"The auspicious symbolism of the food is based on their Chinese pronunciation or appearance," Chan said.

"The Cantonese word for fish sounds like the word for 'surplus', so eating fish ensures one a life of abundance in the new year."

Susan Zhu, Whau Local Board vice-chair, said Chinese New Year celebrations had "exploded" since she moved here from Shandong in 2001.

"The highlight used to be only the lantern festival, but now you can find some sort of celebration going on during the New-Year period at nearly every other suburb," she said.

Whau will be hosting its third Chinese New Year festival tomorrow, which will end with a fireworks display.

Cultural performances and demonstrations including dumpling-making, calligraphy and more lion dancing will also be held at libraries across Auckland until February 11.

Chinese New Year is also expected to bring a boom to tourism in New Zealand.

Tourism New Zealand said up to 33,000 holidaymakers from China were expected to be arriving for the lunar new year holidays.

They are traditionally big spenders, with an average spend of $5000 per head, which means they could potentially inject more than $160 million into the economy.

New Zealand is home to about 90,000 people born in China, but Chinese New Year is celebrated by all ethnic Chinese, including those who hail from Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Ethnic Chinese made up 171,411 people, and seven in 10, or 118,230, lived in Auckland.

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