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Why Lunar New Year is the most important holiday for East Asians

As New York becomes the first state to recognize Lunar New Year as an official school holiday, a Chinese American family reflects on its importance.
Why Lunar New Year is the most important holiday for East Asians
Posted at 2:23 PM, Sep 21, 2023

Hongyue Wang recalls how she used to get excited as a kid when the Lunar New Year season rolled around growing up in Jilin, China. 

“Children can have food that they usually wouldn’t have, new clothing and all the family together,” Wang, 51, said, recalling the celebration would last a month. 

Now living in Pittsford, New York, Lunar New Year is just another work and school day. Though she raised her two children Raymond and Amy on Chinese traditions, it was impossible to fully celebrate as she and her husband both had to work and the kids had to go to school. 

That changed this month for Asian American families in New York as Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill that declared Asian Lunar New Year a public school holiday across the state, with all K-12 public schools closed on the most important holiday for many East Asian cultures. 

“By designating Lunar New Year as an official school holiday, we are taking an important step in recognizing the importance of New York’s AAPI community and the rich diversity that makes New York so great,” Hochul said in a statement. “It is not just a day off from school – it is an opportunity for our children to learn about and celebrate their own or different cultures and traditions.” 

The new legislation in New York state promotes cultural pride for Asian American students and it helps with sharing their culture with their friends, Wang said.

Lunar New Year is the most important celebration of the year among East and Southeast Asian cultures, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean communities. The New Year celebration is usually celebrated for 15 days, symbolized by 12 different animal signs. It's a time when family and friends gather and past transgressions are forgiven to start the new year on the right foot. 

There are many traditions such as wearing the lucky color red, eating lucky foods including noodles for long life, and handing out lucky money in red envelopes to children.

For Wang, her fondest childhood memory of Lunar New Year in China is seeing relatives that she had not seen in a long time. Much like Thanksgiving or Christmas in America, people travel near and far to be with family during the Lunar New Year season. 

China’s Lunar New Year is known as the Spring Festival, and Vietnamese refer to it as Tet. Each country and region has its own traditions. Lunar New Year is a celebration of the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year on the lunisolar calendar.  

 

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The holiday is tied to the lunar calendar, and the day it falls on varies in the Western calendar, with the next Lunar New Year on Feb. 10, 2024. 

The season is a time for feasting and to honor ancestors. New York is the first state to declare Lunar New Year a school holiday. California is the first state to declare Lunar New Year a state holiday with legislation in 2022 that allows state employees to take the day off in lieu of a personal day. 

On a national level, there are no federal holidays celebrating Asian Americans. New York Congresswoman Grace Meng reintroduced legislation this year to commemorate the holiday. If passed, it would establish Lunar New Year as the 12th federal holiday recognized across the United States. 

"Lunar New Year is one of the most significant holidays for the Asian American community. Dating back over 4,000 years, today it is celebrated by millions of Asian Americans and many non-Asian Americans in the United States," Meng said in a statement. 

For Wang, it is important to her as a Chinese American to celebrate cultural rituals with her family. She does not have extended family in the United States, and the celebrations in her adopted country have been with her small family of four in upstate New York.  

She appreciates that New York is taking a step in recognizing the significance of Lunar New Year, but is also cognizant that this is a melting pot nation with many cultural holidays.

“I understand this is a very diverse country,” Wang said.          


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