Lunar New Year will be observed as a public school holiday statewide under legislation signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Saturday.
The holiday, celebrated by Chinese and other Asian cultures, coincides with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and is marked by traditions that symbolize prosperity and unity.
State lawmakers passed the bill, which requires public schools to close for the annual holiday, in June. Lunar New Year falls on Saturday, Feb. 10, in 2024.
New York is the first state to declare Lunar New Year a public school holiday. It has been observed in New York City public schools since 2016.
Hochul said the legislation is “an important step” toward inclusion for the state’s Asian American Pacific Islander, or AAPI, community. “It is not just a day off from school — it is an opportunity for our children to learn about and celebrate their own or different cultures and traditions,” the governor said in a statement.
Data from the 2020 U.S. Census shows that there are more than 1.6 million Asian residents across New York State, and more than 200,000 on Long Island.
Christine Liu, a board member of the Herricks Chinese Association, said she's thrilled to see the state recognize the holiday. “It shows everybody that we’re educating, and embracing this diversity and at the same time allowing our kids to be proud of their culture,” she said. “This is what makes America beautiful.”
Liu, 47, who has two children in high school, said the Herricks school district already observes Asian holidays including Lunar New Year, Diwali and Eid.
She said her kids look forward to the holiday, and it’s a relief to not have to worry about school.
“It’s really wonderful for kids to be able to stay up late on Lunar New Year’s Eve,” Liu said, describing family traditions. “We have noodles for longevity, fish to make us smarter, and we always give out red envelopes to the kids" filled with money for good luck.
Assemb. Grace Lee, whose district includes Manhattan's Chinatown neighborhood, helped lead the effort to get the holiday recognized. “As Asian Americans, we have gone unseen and unheard in New York for too long, and this bill is recognition for our contributions to New York history, and validation that our voices and our stories matter,” she said in a statement.
“This law will expose new generations to Asian culture, and it will promote diversity and inclusion at a time when Asian New Yorkers are suffering from anti-Asian hate.”
A May 2023 report from Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks and responds to incidents of violence, harassment and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, says there have been more than 11,000 incidents reported since March 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
State officials say they are committed to supporting AAPI communities. Hochul’s 2024 budget includes $30 million for organizations that provide “culturally responsive and linguistically competent services,” and address racism and discrimination faced by AAPI residents, according to a news release.