The year ended with laughter, music and the soft jingle of bells Thursday evening as visitors from China celebrated their culture's biggest holiday.

Marking the start of the Year of the Horse, as it is known on the Chinese calendar, the Westport Library hosted a group of students from Guang Xi province, who have been visiting with a family in Westport.

They performed traditional dances from the area of southeastern China where their Liu Zhou High School is located

"The new year is a time like your Christmas," said Jenny Chen, an English teacher at the school of 4,500 students, 80 percent of whom board there. "It's the family get-together, so it's the most important festival in China."

Peggy Lovro of Westport formerly lived -- and worked at a school -- in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she first came to know the 10 students and their three chaperones. "So, when I moved here, they followed me," she said, explaining she hopes to establish a relationship with a Connecticut school for future student exchanges.

All 13 visitors are staying at her house. "We're having a big party," she said, in honor of the new year. "We made the dumplings at our house and we're going to celebrate the Chinese New Year together."

"Peggy called and asked if we might have an opportunity to have them perform," said Kelle Ruden, community relations director for the library.

"It's Chinese New Year, so what better timing," she said.