CHINATOWN — The city's Department of Education has officially recognized Lunar New Year as an official school holiday, to the delight of supporters in Chinatown and across the city who had pushed for the move.
“I think it’s a historic day,” said Gigi Li, a Chinatown resident who also serves as chairwoman for Community Board 3, which covers her neighborhood as well as the Lower East Side and East Village.
Supporters had pushed the city for years to make the celebration an official school holiday, saying it gives more families the flexibility to celebrate their heritage while acknowledging the cultural diversity of the city.
City officials announced the change — which takes effect next year — at a Tuesday a press conference, making it the second major urban school district in the country to officially recognize the major Asian holiday, which many described as Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving combined.
"We believe in celebrating this multicultural city and in this case, starting on Feb. 8, 2016, we will celebrate Lunar New Year," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and several elected officials in Flushing.
Mable Cheng, Glen Oaks resident who was in Chinatown for business Tuesday afternoon, called the decision “very good.” Like tens of thousands of families around the city, the Queens parent struggled with the decision to pull her son out of school so they could celebrate the holiday together.
“Every time we wonder whether we should apply for that day off but if [he does take it off] then maybe the homework or the grade will [go] down,” she said.
The move also recognizes the city’s large Asian population and New York’s ethnic diversity in general, residents said.
“I think it also sends a message that the city is recognizing different cultures and heritages,” Li said. “Kids will realize too, that a holiday that they celebrate is now reflected on their school calendar.”
Wellington Chen, the executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, called the holiday’s addition "absolutely great" but “long overdue,” noting that local organizations and elected officials had spent years advocating for the Lunar New Year’s inclusion into the calendar.
The latest efforts to make Lunar New Year a holiday took place earlier this year and included an open letter addressed to de Blasio from more than 40 elected officials and community groups, including including Chinatown representatives State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Councilwoman Margaret Chin. The State Senate also recently passed a bill requiring the city to recognize Lunar New Year as a school holiday.
In addition to the Asian holiday, city schools will also recognize two Muslim holidays, Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, next year.
With reporting by Katie Honan.