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Asian community cheers addition of Lunar New Year to New York’s school holiday list

Lunar New Year has its origins in an old folk tale of a sea monster that will destroy houses through storms, feasting on animals and sometimes humans.
Lunar New Year has its origins in an old folk tale of a sea monster that will destroy houses through storms, feasting on animals and sometimes humans.

Public school students across New York state have an additional day off from classes after Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation making Asian Lunar New Year a public school holiday. The new law is being cheered by the Asian community.

Heralded as "a significant milestone for the Asian American community," New York's first Lunar New Year holiday will be February 10, 2024.

Democrat Grace Lee of the 65th district Co-Chairs the New York Assembly’s Asian Pacific American Task Force. Lee says thousands of families across the state will now be able to celebrate Lunar New Year at home with their kids.

"I am Korean and my husband's Chinese," said Lee. "Lunar New Year is a huge holiday for our family. And I could not be more proud to have led the effort this year to pass this bill in the Assembly and the Senate, as well as to attend the bill signing when Governor Hochul made history by making Lunar New Year a statewide school holiday in New York. We are the first state in the country to observe Lunar New Year statewide in all of our schools. And it's just a really emotional moment, I think, for everyone in the Asian community, to really feel seen, to feel heard, to be recognized in this way for the contributions that Asian Americans have brought to the city and state for centuries now."

Lee says the law will expose new generations to Asian culture, while promoting diversity and inclusion at a time when New Yorkers face discrimination.

Wei Qin, president of the Chinese Community Center in Latham, says Lunar New Year is a traditional holiday, important to many Asian countries including China, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar.

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"For us, this is really Thanksgiving and Christmas combined in a month," Qin said. "It is supposed to be a two-week street holiday, that family get together with days of preparation of the food, the feast, and decorations are in red, all the gifts, all the red envelopes, all the firecrackers. That cannot be replaced with anything else. So for any of the Asian immigrants who celebrated this in their childhood, we wanted our children to cherish this heritage and pass it along. So when I immigrated over, I really love everything with the American freedom can also however, this is a part when Lunar New Year Day, that my children had to go to school, that really made me kind of sad. So when the governor signed it over, that's really a huge dream come true to me."

Qin says the new holiday demonstrates American diversity. Lunar New Year has its origins in an old folk tale of a sea monster that will destroy houses through storms, feasting on animals and sometimes humans.

"In the ancient times, people are really in the beginning searching ways to prevent and get rid of this monster," said Qin. "So then, later, they discovered as powerful and violent and scary as this monster is, his eyes are afraid of red color. And his ears afraid of loud voices. So then the people in Asian time, when the day and the moon come out, which is Lunar New Year day, they will burn out firecrackers make the splash and then decorate the house and wear red clothes and basically scare off the monster."

Qin says plans are being formulated for "Lunar New Year Cultural Week."

"We're going to throw out a large scale, big scale Lunar New Year show in The Egg, aiming to receive more audience, as much as possible, to let them share the happiness and then to explore more of the Lunar New Year heritage, and the Chinese Community Center also will pair up with schools, elementary schools and high schools and join their activities," Qin Said.

In March the state Senate approved a measure allowing students attending SUNY and CUNY schools to observe Lunar New Year without fear of being penalized.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.