Grievances on the Lunar New Year

By, Margaret E. ’21

Everyone gets Thanksgiving off. It’s unquestioned, a custom we’ve come to accept since kindergarten. For this national holiday, schools allow their students around five days of homework-free vacation. Essentially, Thanksgiving is regarded as an all-around American holiday that justifies a break from the busy bustle of school and professional life. Likewise, winter break is timed so that students can celebrate the biggest holiday season around family, without the stress of catching up on schoolwork. In fact, we as students get several holidays off: Columbus Day, Memorial Day, Presidents Day, and Labor Day, to name a few. Some teachers will even be understanding on Halloween and lessen the homework load so younger students can be allowed to have fun. Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Lao, Singaporean, Indonesian, and many more students of Asian descent, however, are not so lucky when it comes to having their holidays off. 

The Lunar New Year is celebrated by many Asian cultures and is considered one of the biggest occasions of the year. As it does not abide by the Gregorian calendar, there is no set calendar date, though it typically falls between the end of January and the middle of February. This year, it falls on February 5. However, it is often dismissed as only “Chinese New Year” and is rarely acknowledged outside of a “Chinese-themed” lunch or arts and crafts activities at many schools. 

For many, the importance of the Lunar New Year can be likened to that of Thanksgiving and the winter holiday season compounded. It is a twenty-three-day festival during which families and communities get together and celebrate the coming of the New Year, wish each other fortune and good luck, and host extravagant celebrations filled with good food and traditions. The New Year is such an important event that in places such as China, adults are given a minimum of seven days off from work, and students are allowed a whole three weeks off from school. 

The students who celebrate in America are not afforded this break. Outside of New York, a state which recently began letting children off for the Lunar New Year, students are expected to work the same amount as they do during the rest of the school year while the rest of the family begins holiday celebrations. When they arrive home, they continue working whilst missing out on a huge part of their cultural identity. They are often  pressured to stay up late in order to see off family and friends as they depart for the evening because paying one’s elders a proper amount of respect is mandatory. They awake tired, knowing that they have another day of school and another day of celebrations that they’ll have to miss. 

As someone who has always been very proud of my Chinese heritage, I have felt as though a significant portion of my identity has been unfairly disrespected, dismissed, and dubbed lesser by this lack of acknowledgement, even though it is not out of malicious intent. The Winsor handbook states that although the school does not celebrate every holiday, students are permitted to miss school. However, these allowances do not make the decision easier: If students miss school, they risk falling behind in classes and homework, and the cultural emphasis on respecting the education provided by one’s parents may prevent students from making use of such a policy to begin with. As Chinese student Audrey W. ’20 stated, it feels as though the school is “essentially presenting us with two choices and demanding us to make this decision: your education, or your identity.” This yearly decision weighs heavily on our shoulders and always ends with the same result: education. Korean student Jane H. ’21 added, “a significant proportion of the school [celebrates the Lunar New Year], so I think it’s wrong to have to miss the Lunar New Year for school when other kids get to miss school for Christmas and such.” Most people celebrating the Lunar New Year share these sentiments and have presented the proposal of allowing a day off for the first day of the New Year. However, outside of New York, these protests seem to have had little to no acknowledgement. 

This feeling of unfairness is not limited to those celebrating the holiday, however. An anonymous student stated, “Although I don’t celebrate Lunar New Year, I think it’s important that those who do feel that their culture and traditions are viewed as equally important to others in our community. Those who have the privilege of receiving breaks from school for their major holidays should try to consider how others feel: for example, imagine instead of receiving a day off for Thanksgiving to spend time with your family, you were expected to be at school, then have extracurricular activities and homework to do.”

People of Asian descent are beginning to attempt to take matters in their own hands. Some Asian parents are teaching their children to also take the importance of their cultural heritage into account. One admirable example is Winsor Chinese teacher Ms. Q. She stated that, “because of how ‘good’ Chinese are as students or workers, our most important holiday is often ignored or overlooked by the American society. So in order to make our society rethink the importance of this holiday, I have chosen to stop coming to work on Lunar New Year, and I take my children out of school.” She hopes to raise awareness by taking action and by teaching her children “how important it is to know and celebrate their heritage.” 

I write this piece as a call to action and a plea for help. I write this as a plea for teachers to keep the holiday in mind as they write out their syllabi, as a plea for students not observing the holiday to stand by those who do and to speak out when the workload sounds unfair. I write this as a call for action directed towards the administration. I write this in hopes that countless protests will finally not fall upon deaf ears. Writing this feels almost as if I am asking to be allowed to be Chinese and allowed to celebrate the Lunar New Year. I write this not only knowing how preposterous that notion is, but also knowing that I have been asking for this permission my whole life. I write with the intent to alleviate the grievances of those who celebrate Lunar New Year. 

I do this all, and I propose this: Allow everyone a day off on the first day of Lunar New Year. Allow the integration of a No Homework night. Allow students to embrace their culture easily.