This Lunar New Year, New York City’s public school kids, whether they are Asian American or not, get to spend New Year’s Day at home.
According to the U.S. Census, one in eight New Yorkers is of Asian descent. In the past, Lunar New Year’s day sometimes coincided with school days, causing absenteeism in public schools. So last June, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration made Lunar New Year, an important holiday to Asian Americans, an official holiday of public schools across the five boroughs.
As the celebration approached, New York’s Asian Americans spent the weekend relieved they did not have to plan this year’s holiday around school schedules. “In the past, [my six-year-old daughter] had to go to school, so we could not take her out,” said Vicky Xiang. “But this year she can join us at morning tea, greeting family and relatives.”
Children wish their family good fortune and health and receive red packets with money inside in return at the morning tea, a huge part of Cantonese’s New Year traditions. Xiang said she also plans to take her daughter to Chinatown to watch the dragon dance performance and experience the festive atmosphere.
Asian American parents aren’t the only ones pleased with the new school holiday. Students like Amy Vo, a Manhattan public student of Vietnam descent, are thrilled. She has always spent her Lunar New Year’s celebration helping her parents, who sell fruits on the streets of Chinatown, but had to usually take the day off of school. This year she won’t have to be recorded as absent.
Buying fruits, especially apples and oranges, is a tradition in many Asian cultures. In Chinese, the pronunciation of orange sounds similar to “good luck” and the word for apple sounds like “safe.” Both fruits—and the sentiments they allude to— symbolize a good New Year and are essentials to any family’s Lunar New Year’s preparation. On Chinatown’s overcrowded sidewalks Saturday, customers formed lines at different fruit vendors.
Vo, a Vietnamese decedent, said the day off also has made it more convenient for her and her peers to help prepare their homes for the holiday. Vo’s family, for example, decorates their home with Chinese styled banners and posters, said Vo. She added that her grandmother also sets up a religious table with food and flowers, so the whole family can pray for a better year ahead.
On Saturday, Chinatown buzzed with even more activity and usual with many Chinese Americans scooping up fruit, decorations and flowers for the celebration, without having to worry about school work. Yeeli Zhao, 14, another public school student in Manhattan, for example, said she was out buying carnations for her family’s holiday decorations.
In Chinese culture, especially among Cantonese, people put peach blossoms, bamboos and willow flowers in their homes because they symbolize harmony, longevity and wealth.
“I slept ten hours today because I don’t need to worry about homework [for this New Year],” said Zhao. “I also spent more time talking to my family and I am going to have a big dinner with them.”