WELLINGTON, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- The New Zealand Parliament is to mark the Chinese New Year on Thursday evening with a gathering of members of the country's growing Chinese community.
The Chinese New Year was the biggest and most important festival in the Chinese calendar, and was fast becoming very popular among the wider New Zealand society, Ethnic Communities Minister Judith Collins said in a statement.
"This is the Year of the Fire Rooster. The Rooster Year is said to be characterized by great progress, with rewards for those who have the rooster traits of loyalty, commitment, hard work and family values," said Collins.
"Chinese people have been settling in New Zealand for more than 150 years and today, about 172,000 Chinese people call New Zealand home. Some have ancestors who arrived in the 19th Century, others have recently come from China, and some are from other parts of the world," she said.
"China is our second largest export partner, our biggest international education market and our second largest tourist market. About 50,000 tourists are expected from China to spend their Chinese New Year holidays in New Zealand."
The Parliament had held Chinese New Year celebrations since 2002.
The annual Lantern Festival held in central Auckland, New Zealand's largest city and home to a third of the population, also kicked off Thursday and will run till Sunday.
It is Auckland's largest cultural festival and New Zealand's largest Chinese festival, with more than 200,000 attending in 2016.
Other events to mark the Chinese New Year included visits by Chinese performers to schools in Auckland and the far north city of Whangarei and the South Island's Canterbury region.
The acts included Mongolian musicians Nair Ensemble and martial arts performers from Shanghai Shangwu Group.
"These school visits give hundreds of New Zealand children a taste of the breadth of Chinese culture and learn about the traditions of the Lunar New Year," said Sean O'Connor, of the Asia New Zealand Foundation which is organizing the visits.
"They'll get the chance to see the performers up close and even try out some of their skills. These visits help spark interest in Chinese culture and support the students' other learning about China," O'Connor said in a statement Thursday.
Also Thursday, the Dunedin City Council announced the South Island city would host New Zealand's first ever official China Film Festival from March 31 to April 2.
The event, held in partnership with the New Zealand Film Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Shanghai Art Film Festival, would include screenings of six new-release feature movies.
"It reflects our city's increasingly outward looking focus and heightened consciousness of our Chinese heritage. It is also an opportunity to further develop creative, cultural and commercial collaboration between Dunedin and our sister city Shanghai," Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said in a statement.
A high-level delegation from Shanghai, including political and film industry representatives, would travel to Dunedin for the event, said Cull.