A horse decoration for the Chinese Lunar New Year is displayed on the wall of a building in Hong Kong. Pic: AP.

HONG KONG (AP) — Chinese communities around the world were ushering in the year of the horse starting Friday with equine-themed decorations and celebrations.

The annual Lunar New Year holiday is marked with a particular verve in Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous Chinese financial center that expects nearly 8 million visitors from Jan. 29 to Feb. 6 — more than the local population of 7.1 million. Most of those travelers will be mainland Chinese, who have been flooding into Hong Kong in increasing numbers in recent years thanks to rising incomes and a strengthening yuan.

Like all animals in the Chinese zodiac, the horse sign comes imbued with certain characteristics, such as vitality, loyalty, steadfastness and a sense of adventure. The year of the horse is generally considered an auspicious time, and business-savvy residents of Hong Kong are hoping for vigorous growth.

The year is considered especially significant for Hong Kong’s vibrant horse racing scene, which boasts two world-class tracks and legions of enthusiastic fans.