Lunar New Year: Why Isn’t It a National Holiday?

4 years ago

This Sunday, February 10 marks one of the world’s biggest celebrations: the Lunar New Year. Most commonly known as Chinese New Year, the holiday is celebrated by billions of people in East Asia and will usher in the Year of the Snake. So why isn’t the Lunar New Year an official holiday?

NEW YORK, Feb. 7, 2013 Local residents look at the traditional decorations for the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year in China Town, New York, the United States, Feb. 6, 2013. The Chinese Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, starts on Feb. 10 this year. (Credit Image: © Wang Lei/Xinhua/

Don't tell me, "Because we live in America." There are 17.3 million Asians in the United States, the fastest growing racial group. Some people would like to see the Lunar New Year made into a federally recognized holiday and have created a petition on the White House’s new online portal. The petition’s creator writes:

Our nation is composed of a wide array of nationalities and cultural background. It is imperative that we as a diverse nation to recognize and acknowledge that diversity. The Asian population represents a large percentage in U.S.'s population and is growing ever more. Students in public schools voluntarily take off from school to spend the Lunar New Year holiday at home with families. Yet, they are marked absent for their in-attendance. Please make this important holiday widely recognized and make it an official day off for students too. The holidays in our calendar year already consists of holidays from different cultures and definitely has room for Lunar New Year too.

I completely understand. My husband and I have to work and our kids have to go to school while the biggest celebration of our heritage is going on. And in elementary school, Chinese New Year gets just a passing mention -- that's if it doesn't fall on the same date as Valentine's Day, and then forget about it. While it’s not a religious holiday, the Lunar New Year is traditionally marked by two weeks of relaxation, feasting and spending time with loved ones. Sort of like the Twelve Days of Christmas in the western world. Kind of hard to do when there are spelling tests, deadlines and sports practices.

But I’m not holding my breath waiting for this holiday to be created; a terrible racist saying from the Old West comes to mind when I think about the chances of Chinese New Year becoming an official holiday.

Jenn at Reappropriate says the petition to make Lunar New Year an official holiday has good intentions, but is misguided:

One could argue that Easter, Passover, and even Ramadan are often recognized by school districts, and that the first two reflect a strong Judeo-Christian bias in the holidays school districts observe. And they would be true. Certainly, there is room for argument that school districts with high East Asian populations should reflect that constituency by observing Lunar New Year and not penalizing their students for taking those days off. But that is an issue to take to a local school board, not the desk of the president.

Recognizing Lunar New Year is not just political correctness or cultural sensitivity -- it's good business. After all, Asians are the fastest growing racial group in America, and with increasing globalization, big events in other parts of the world send repercussions to the United States. As USA Today reports, the two-week shutdown in Asia now affects the global economy, and every Fortune 100 company plans around it. Businesses know it doesn’t pay to have employees on the clock when production is bottle-necked:

In China alone, 250 million factory workers step away from their jobs to celebrate LNY with family and friends. Lost productivity from workers caught up in the festivities will disrupt trade flows from Latin America to Africa and the Middle East.

And brands are cashing in on the growing popularity of this holiday. Now you can mark the Year of the Snake with special gift cards from Starbucks, decorations from Pottery Barn, and stamps from the U.S. Postal Service. While some of the offerings might be stretching the authenticity of the traditions (find out what I think about the felt “red envelopes”), they are a start – and they show that corporate America recognizes the growing significance of the Lunar New Year.

Now that’s putting your money where your mouth is. Happy New Year!

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.

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