This year, for the first time ever, New York City’s public schools gave students a day off for Lunar New Year. This is a landmark achievement for Asians in New York City, where in previous years students had to choose between attending school and celebrating a holiday important to their identities. In 2013, one Lower Manhattan elementary school reported an 80 percent absence rate on the day of the Lunar New Year, showing just how important the holiday is to people of Asian descent.
At Seattle University, over 20 percent of undergraduate students identify as Asian—before even considering international students, many of whom also hail from Asia. For many students, this brings into question: should Seattle U follow New York City as a model for inclusivity and make Lunar New Year a school holiday?
Ning Luo, a senior nursing major, supports the idea. Luo is an international student from Hohhot, China, and has not been able to celebrate with his family during Lunar New Year since coming to America
“Making kids go to school on [Lunar] New Year Day is like making the mainstream go to school on Christmas. How would that make you feel?” Luo said.
Lunar New Year could be traced as far back as 16th century B.C. in China. Each New Year starts on the second new moon of the winter solstice, which in the Western calendar typically falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20.
Although it originated in China, Lunar New Year is now recognized as a public holiday and celebrated in a large number of East Asian countries including China, Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. Celebrations can last from one day to three weeks, depending on the country.
Many Seattle U students have had to either push celebrations to a weekend or forgo them altogether, after becoming accustomed to not having Lunar New Year off for years.
“I’ve started to feel less and less excited about Lunar New Year because I don’t get to see my family—so you don’t actually feel like it’s Lunar New Year—and it’s always around midterms,” said senior finance major Siyu Tian.
Though the holiday is deeply tied with traditions and symbolism for all who celebrate it, traditions can vary by region and country. Differences can range from subtle details like wearing a collar or pattern on one’s clothing to clear distinctions like different dishes or games played during this time. Symbols are also unique to each dialect and language, particularly decorations based on homonyms that rhyme with luck or joy. There is also an aversion to objects that rhyme with evil or death.
Regardless of the country in which it is celebrated, Lunar New Year places a heavy emphasis on family. Relatives near and far use the holiday to travel across countries to be with each other, when they normally would not have the time or luxury to do so. People usually take this time to pray and thank their ancestors or deities, whether at home, at an ancestral altar or at a temple.
“I don’t want people to homogenize it,” said sophomore Juani Rosales, an international business and finance double major. “Lunar New Year becomes very simplified and it’s really frustrating because…here it just gets erased and turned into the universal way that people celebrate the Lunar New Year.”
Rosales, who is Chinese-Mexican, opposes the idea of a school holiday because she doesn’t want to see it become homogenized on Seattle U’s campus. She started celebrating the holiday more privately after middle school, when her peers could not comprehend the meaning of Lunar New Year.
Vietnamese sophomore Anh Phan, a biology and accounting double major, said that even if Seattle U does not give students a day off for Lunar New Year in the future, she would like to see a day dedicated to celebrating the diversity of Seattle U’s student population.
“Having a multicultural holiday on campus would be a great opportunity for people to understand other cultures,” Phan said. “It’s not just the identity of Caucasian—it’s the identity of every minority and majority, and having a lot of younger Americans…understanding diversity and being culturally competent.”
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