Grace Fails to Recognize Significance of Lunar New Year

Media provided by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Scroll to the end of the article to sign the petition to establish Lunar New Year as an official Grace holiday.

This year, Lunar New Year was spent in the school building. Students, faculty, and affiliated members who celebrate entered the Year of the Tiger in classrooms by teaching tenses, taking math quizzes, or writing an essay for history class.

Lunar New Year is an incredibly prominent and important holiday in East Asia and Southeast Asia celebrated by billions of people, marking the beginning of the new year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. Lunar New Year is a celebration that takes place during the 15 days between the first new moon at the end of January to the next full moon at the beginning of the new year in the Lunar calendar. The Lunar calendar operates in a 12-year rotation with animals and elements corresponding to each year. The animals include the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

A handful of Grace students and faculty take part in this holiday in their own special ways. 

The high school theater teacher, Caleb Goh, Year of the Snake, wrote, “my family does a traditional ‘lo hei’ celebration. The literal translation is the ‘tossing up of good fortune.’ It is a custom adopted from Singapore, where I am from. The higher the tosses (while saying auspicious phrases), the more good luck will be bestowed.”

Dr. Goh expressed his sadness and frustration with how going to school made him miss out on important rituals: “[missing out on rituals] definitely put a damper on things for me since I have been celebrating LNY [Lunar New Year] since I was a kid. It was one of the most auspicious and magical celebrations of the year growing up.”

Oscar B. ‘24, Year of the Dog, wrote about the way he celebrates Lunar New Year with his family: “Generally, I will go and see my cousins and extended family for Chinese New Year … I really enjoyed the time I get to spend with them during Chinese New Year and some of my fondest memories have occurred during Chinese New Year.” Although he missed out on his Lunar New Year traditions, he wrote that “[his class] spent a bunch of time … talking about it and the traditions that come with it, although it isn’t really spoken about anywhere else.”

According to the New York City Department of Education, NYC public schools were not required to hold school on Feb. 1 in order to recognize the Lunar New Year and allow those who observe the holiday to do so. Private schools such as Collegiate, Browning, Horace Mann, and Dalton, amongst others, also had the holiday off this year. Not only does Grace fail to recognize the holiday by having students and faculty attend school, but there is hardly a trace of the holiday within the school. The red and gold decorations with Chinese characters do not come close to encapsulating the significance of the holiday. There was no chapel commemorating the Lunar New Year, in contrast to the countless other chapel celebrations for other religious and cultural markings. On April 12th, 2022, Grace is hosting International Family Night to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. This event is completely optional and not necessarily a sufficient acknowledgement of the holiday. 

Peggy Chan, Year of the Ram, wrote, “My family and I get together for dinner on the eve of Lunar New Year. Since I don’t see my family on New Year’s day, this is also when we exchange red envelopes and well wishes. When I was little, we used to go out to Chinatown every weekend to watch the lion dances and the fireworks … It was like a big party in the street.” She continued, writing, “Lunar New Year is THE major holiday to many people of Asian descent … It’s like all of the major holidays celebrated in the USA, combined into one.”

The Asian community can often seem invisible or erased, and this needs to be addressed and corrected.” 

Dr. Goh

In requiring its students to attend school on Lunar New Year, Grace has perpetuated the idea that only particular (predominantly white) religions are important enough to be recognized in schools. Recently, Grace published a document titled the “Grace Way,” spelling out how Grace strives for equality within its community. How can Grace truly claim to be a school that honors diversity and equality while neglecting the importance of such a major holiday? The Grace High School Student Government has recognized the students’ requests to have school off on Lunar New Year in a recent town hall. In response to such, they have made a petition to try to convince the administration to acknowledge the holiday. 

In a Google Form sent out to the Grace community, when asked if they would prefer school to close on Lunar New Year, six out of the seven people who responded voted “yes.” However, the responses as to whether people thought Lunar New Year is recognized at Grace in other ways were split exactly in half. The form also indicated that four out of six respondents felt as though they missed out on special rituals by attending school.

Lola J. ‘22, Year of the Goat, wrote about her family’s celebration of Lunar New Year: “Every year [my grandmother] throws a party for friends and family with Jamaican Chinese food and gets dancers to go to her house and perform a special lion dance.”

Miranda C. ‘24, Year of the Rooster, wrote, “Although my family is Chinese, we don’t really celebrate Lunar New Year. The extent of our celebration is a red envelope with money in it and, sometimes, a nice dinner. However, this year we couldn’t celebrate with a really nice dinner because of pressing school work and tests.” Miranda continued, writing, “Grace claims to embrace every faith, race, and gender but doesn’t give certain students time off for their religious holidays. Lunar New Year is a major holiday for Asians and deserves a dedicated time off just as much as Christmas and Easter.” 

In an email to the Gazette, Dr. Goh wrote, “There just needs to be more of an official celebration. The way other months and celebrations are embraced here, I feel that LNY needs to be given equal consideration. The Asian community can often seem invisible or erased, and this needs to be addressed and corrected.” 

An earlier version of this article neglected to recognize that a lunar new year celebration is being hosted by the parent association on the evening of April 12th. The event was postponed due to COVID.

Use the below form to sign your name in support of the Lunar New Year Petition