Make Lunar New Year a US Holiday – Why Not?

In keeping with the sweetness and light we are trying to maintain to honor the New Year, I offer the following post…

Last night, I went to a party in celebration of Chinese New Year. My friend Anna, originally from Jinan, is quite the cook, and with the help of her father and several cousins, prepared so many courses that I’m surprised the table held up under the weight. The four people attending born in the Dog year received stuffed dog toys, the kids got hong bao, and we all ate far too many dumplings in order to get one with a coin inside. Only one coin was swallowed, to my knowledge.

Here in Los Angeles, celebrations of the Lunar New Year are increasingly common, and not just among Asians and Asian Americans. I turned down a couple other invitations myself. Of course, Los Angeles isn’t necessarily like the rest of America, but we aren’t the only ones celebrating. Now there’s a movement afoot for official recognition of Lunar New Year:

Emily Yee-Mei Lee remembers that as a child in Taiwan, she longed for the next Chinese New Year, that fabulous day when she would receive neon-red envelopes with $100 bills and gorge on scrumptious pork dumplings.

But in the United States, Lee usually confronts the festival with angst and guilt: Instead of spending the whole day celebrating, she trudges to her job as a computer programmer and ships her 15-year-old son off to school.

“It makes me feel like it’s impossible to be a good Chinese and a good American,” said Lee, 47, of Ellicott City. “It’s just so hard to properly celebrate the holiday in this country.”

The Lunar New Year — which is celebrated today by more than a billion Asians around the world — presents a troubling annual dilemma for many of the country’s 12 million Asian Americans: honor your millennia-old traditions by taking the day off, or bow to the pressures of Western society by going about business as usual?

Asian Americans such as Lee say they shouldn’t have to make that choice. In a sign of their increasing political power, Asian American groups in the Washington region and across the nation are pushing measures that they hope will eventually result in a federal holiday, with public schools closing and employees staying home from work.

“This is about respect for our culture,” said Henry Lau, a co-founder of the Maryland Coalition for Recognition of the Asian Lunar New Year. “The New Year is the most important festival in our culture, and that needs to be acknowledged.”

The Howard County Council passed a measure this month to prohibit public meetings on the holiday. The Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill to officially recognize the day, and activists in Virginia are lobbying for a similar measure. Groups in the District are proposing to close school on the Lunar New Year.

The growing movement echoes efforts by earlier immigrant and minority groups that fought for recognition of holidays that honor them, Lau said.

“The Italian Americans have Columbus Day, the Irish have St. Patrick’s Day and African Americans have Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” said Lau, 60, a manager at the Environmental Protection Agency who lives in Columbia. “But the Asian American community has nothing. It’s like we’re not real Americans.”

The movement has had some success. In San Francisco, Lunar New Year is a school holiday; in New York, it’s an official “Day Of Commemoration,” along with other Jewish and Muslim festival days. The ultimate goal is to make Lunar New Year a Federal holiday, just like Christmas and Thanksgiving.

I think this is a holiday most Americans could get behind – why not? Get together with family, celebrate, eat, wish each other luck and prosperity for the year ahead. And maybe set off a few firecrackers. You know we Americans do like our fireworks.

Thanks to Michael Turton for the tip.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 26 Comments

Well, just take a look at THIS! “China Stockpiling Massive Fireworks Arsenal”, from the Onion!

(sorry I dunno how to tinyurl, but the article is at):

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/30612

January 29, 2006 @ 3:05 pm | Comment

Hey, Ivan, aren’t you gonna send me a post?!

January 29, 2006 @ 5:14 pm | Comment

Ivan,
Are you getting paycheck by broadcasting those shits? I never argued in english forum regarding to china issue before. It is really amazing and I am just impressed so many bullshits about my country everywhere.

chinese government wants to ban fireworks. Because fireworks are being played by individuals as this is always a tradition. But every year new year fireworks got many people’s finger blowed off due to those fireworks are be made bigger and bigger by some unofficial factories.

So couple of years ago, government banned them in big cities. People understood at the beginning but were getting bored very soon. As a result, some of them started playing and ran quickly before police came to get them. Every year more and more local government decided to un-ban firework. In Beijing, more and more people started play firework without a government permission. Then government realised that it is impractical to ban firework as tradition is pretty deep.

So, as a conclusion,
1, Government don’t want them but have to allow them.
2, Government do not stockpiling them! What for? They are not bullets, after raining they won’t fire. If you don’t fire them the first year, the second year you will find they don’t work anymore!
3, Of course government want test them. Because them simply want make sure they are small enough so it won’t blow fingers off again.
4, By what purpose chinese government want to ship those to america? Making profit?

January 29, 2006 @ 5:39 pm | Comment

Xin, in this case, Ivan was very much joking. The Onion is a satirical website that makes fun of US politics and culture. Believe me.

January 29, 2006 @ 5:54 pm | Comment

Lisa is exactly right about this.

Although, some months ago, the fools at China Daily actually took “The Onion” seriously and copied a news story from it.

January 29, 2006 @ 7:00 pm | Comment

I don’t think Mr. O’Reilly would like that. It’s not enough that there’s a war on Christmas going on. Do you really need to bring in more foreign menaces like the Chinese New Year?

January 29, 2006 @ 8:00 pm | Comment

What about the Welsh! The US doesn’t celebrate a St. David’s, nor is there a Rbt. Burns national day for the Scots. Sod the Irish!

January 29, 2006 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

Keir,

St Patrick’s Day is a big festival in Australia. Not a public holiday though.

I wouldn’t mind to have Chinese New Year Holidays here. I don’t feel like working in my office today.

January 29, 2006 @ 8:13 pm | Comment

Yeah, but in Scotland neither Burns Night nor St Andrew’s day are national holidays – everyone still has to work, they just get drunk in the evening.
Must confess colossal ignorance and state that I don’t know what happens in Wales for St David’s.

January 29, 2006 @ 8:50 pm | Comment

Ivan wrote:
“Lisa is exactly right about this.

Although, some months ago, the fools at China Daily actually took “The Onion” seriously and copied a news story from it.”

Sorry then.

Cheers,

January 29, 2006 @ 10:05 pm | Comment

Xin,

Mei wenti! And Happy New Year…

January 29, 2006 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

Well, I don’t get Thanksgiving off in Taiwan. And quite frankly, I don’t really get Christmas off either. It just happened to be on a weekend this year. I don’t see why Chinese New Year CAN’T be a national holiday in the US. But I don’t see any reason why it should be either. Diwali is not a national holiday either. In my opinion, a better approach would be to not penalize immigrants for taking the Chinese New Year off rather than make it a national holiday, the same way that Jewish children are not penalized for taking off important Jewish holidays from school. Don’t get me wrong, I have full respect for the Chinese New Year. But in the absence of a true push from majority groups as well, I don’t think the drive is there for it to be a national holiday, and won’t really be there for a while.

January 30, 2006 @ 6:23 am | Comment

“…but in Scotland neither Burns Night nor St Andrews Day are national holidays – everyone still has to work, they just get drunk in the evenings.”

Right. And that’s what the Scots do on EVERY evening, so, those days really aren’t so special. What would be really special would be a Scottish holiday where everyone went out and got sober….

January 30, 2006 @ 7:12 am | Comment

Ivan:

How would that work? You get plastered at home, wonder out to your favorite pub, and drink tea/coffee?

January 30, 2006 @ 7:17 am | Comment

If fireworks are banned maybe the exploding toads like the ones found in Germany last year would be a good substitute.

January 30, 2006 @ 1:20 pm | Comment

terry,

German toads do not explode unless they get orders to do so.

January 30, 2006 @ 2:03 pm | Comment

Linklets 31st January

China dominates World Economic Forum agenda. Chickens for fighter jets? Shanghaiist reports that Memoirs of a Geisha has been officially banned in China. There are two sides to every story and here's one you probably won't hear in the western …

January 30, 2006 @ 7:06 pm | Comment

Linklets 31st January

China dominates World Economic Forum agenda. Chickens for fighter jets? Shanghaiist reports that Memoirs of a Geisha has been officially banned in China. There are two sides to every story and here's one you probably won't hear in the western …

January 30, 2006 @ 7:06 pm | Comment

Linklets 31st January

China dominates World Economic Forum agenda. Chickens for fighter jets? Shanghaiist reports that Memoirs of a Geisha has been officially banned in China. There are two sides to every story and here's one you probably won't hear in the western …

January 30, 2006 @ 7:06 pm | Comment

Linklets 31st January

China dominates World Economic Forum agenda. Chickens for fighter jets? Shanghaiist reports that Memoirs of a Geisha has been officially banned in China. There are two sides to every story and here's one you probably won't hear in the western …

January 30, 2006 @ 7:07 pm | Comment

hi everyone! i’m in china now. those of you who read regularly last year will know me.

Beijing sounds like a war zone! There are mortars going off at semi-regular intervals – a few times an hour. It’s totally empty too. I wish it could be this way once a week. It’s a nice little break from the floods of people normally. Course, everything is closed too.

2 observations:

Something recently in the NYT about TW. If TW wanted to be free (which they may not) they might want to do it now, while China still needs to maintain commericial ties with them?

Beijing TV has a LOT more chinese speaking foreigners on it. Also, a lot more international companies have ads on tv – more than 2 years ago.

Still a dusty, dusty place. My eyes hurt.

LN

January 31, 2006 @ 9:48 am | Comment

hey Lao…er, nei! Nice to hear from you…

January 31, 2006 @ 11:39 am | Comment

That’s a cool moniker. Seriously, doesn’t “Laonei” make equally as much sense as “Laowai”?

January 31, 2006 @ 12:23 pm | Comment

Actually, St. Patrick’s day is not a government or bank holiday in the U.S. Everyone goes to work, and then gets sloshed. One new yhear’s celebration is enough. Add another holiday to the list and your are merely taking money from your pocket and throwing it into the bloated federal coffers. Federal workers will have yet another day off,and those who work must be paid holiday pay and other special incentives. Sweetness and light indeed! Bah, humbug!

January 31, 2006 @ 10:28 pm | Comment

You’re no fun, Lirelou…

Actually I don’t think most would argue with the notion that Lunar New Year is a much more culturally significant holiday than St. Patricks day. I’d certainly want to see New Year a federal holiday before St. Paddy’s Day – and I’m part Irish!

January 31, 2006 @ 10:41 pm | Comment

There is a large amount of Chinese New Year activities in the US :

http://www.childbook.com/community/newyear

Ray

February 1, 2006 @ 12:03 am | Comment

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