Lunar New Year won't be US holiday

Updated: 2013-02-26 11:47

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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 Lunar New Year won't be US holiday

Revellers dressed as the God of Fortune and McDonald perform at a celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year in New York. Yu Wei / China Daily

China's 1.3 billion people celebrated the two-week long Lunar New Year holiday this month, and now 39,780 people want it to be a national holiday in the United States.

"The Asian population represents a large percentage of the US population and is growing ever more," the petition sent to the White House with close to 40,000 signatures says. "Please make this important holiday widely recognized and make it an official day off for students too."

The petitioners got a response from the White House office that handles such petitions - known as the Office of Digital Strategy - but they are not going to get a holiday.

"Even though it would take an act of Congress to make the Lunar New Year a federal holiday, we're happy to speak out to ensure that this important celebration is widely recognized and treated with respect," read the response.

The office compared the Lunar New Year to Rosh Hashanah, Easter or Eid al-Adha, the Islamic holiday of the Feast of the Sacrifice.

"It's an occasion that makes us richer as a culture and stronger as a people - even without being a federal holiday," the office wrote.

The White House established the "We the People" online-petitioning system on Sept 22, 2011, and since then has received almost 9.2 million signatures on more than 141,000 petitions, according to the office.

As of Jan 16, to get a response from the White House petitions must have 100,000 signatures gathered within 30 days. The proposed Lunar holiday petition was created on Jan 15 and needed to meet the previous requirement of 25,000 signatures.

The US recognizes 11 national holidays: New Year's Day, the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr, Washington's birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and Inauguration Day.

Congress has declared national holidays after a significant number of states created the day as a state holiday, or in some cases, Congress initiated the holiday, according to Jacob R. Straus, an analyst on Congress for the Congressional Research Service.

In general, holidays were designed to emphasize a particular aspect of American heritage or to celebrate an event in American history, according to Straus.

"I don't think the Lunar New Year necessarily needs to be a national holiday," said Lily Woo, principal of PS 130 in Manhattan's Chinatown and Little Italy neighborhood. But she said it should be a holiday for New York City public schools, including PS 130, which reported an absence rate of approximately 80 percent during the Lunar New Year last year.

Students who celebrate the holiday currently receive an "excused" absence and it's put on their attendance record.

"Students have to make a decision about whether or not to take the day off to spend the holiday with their family and perhaps miss important exams or projects," Woo said.

"It's not fair to these students," she said about those who feel obliged to go to school and skip their celebrations. "It's like having to take exams on Christmas."

The New York State Legislature is considering a bill introduced in January 2012 to designate the Asian Lunar New Year as a holiday for all city school districts with a population of at least 1 million and with an Asian population of 7.5 percent or more.

Most of the Asian population in the US resides in the western part of the country, according to the 2010 US Census. San Francisco is the only US city that recognizes the Lunar New Year for all public schools.

The 2010 Census reported 14.7 million Asians live in the US and make up 4.8 percent of the total population, and an additional 2.6 million people, or 0.9 percent of the population, are Asian in combination with one or more other races.