FAYETTEVILLE-MANLIUS SCHOOLS – Legislation was recently passed by Gov. Kathy Hochul to officially observe the Asian Lunar New Year as a public school holiday across the state of New York, and a Fayetteville-Manlius student did her part to make that happen.
The date of the lunisolar holiday varies year to year but typically falls between late January and the middle part of February to mark the second new moon after the winter solstice.
The celebration, which originated in China, is traditionally comprised of 16 days of celebration lasting from the eve of the followed calendar’s beginning to the occurrence of the first full moon. The legislation signed Sept. 9 by the governor will cover the first day, which, in the year of the dragon 2024, happens to be Saturday, Feb. 10.
Shuyuan Luan, a senior at Fayetteville-Manlius High School, moved from China to the area in January. She brought with her a love for the Lunar New Year celebrations she grew up with, which always culminate in the Lantern Festival involving elaborately designed, red paper lanterns that symbolize the notions of letting go and hope for good fortune.
Entering the F-M school district, Luan sought to pass along stories of commemorating the two-week event and all the family get-togethers, food and lion dances that come with it.
“I really love my culture and I wanted more people to know about it, so I started doing that,” she said.
Holding onto that goal, Luan created a poster containing a QR code that led to a website where people could sign a petition to make Asian Lunar New Year a recognized holiday for schools statewide.
She brought the poster board wherever she went, including to an advocacy day rally on April 25 in Albany where state senators and assembly members came together to give public speeches.
In addition, she spread the word to her own classmates, her teachers, and her other friends and Instagram followers, winding up with 7,000 signatures collected altogether.
Luan said that when she saw the legislation finally get passed in September, she was full of excitement and the satisfaction that she played a role in a step forward for the Asian and Pacific Islander community.
“It’s just amazing, and it’s a beginning representing that more people will realize the importance of the Asian culture,” Luan said. “As a teenager, it makes me feel warm and welcome when more students and friends want to learn about my culture. Once they know about it, they can tell their families and then it can spread to more places in the world.”
Jing Lei, a Manlius resident and family friend of Luan’s, said that New York has put forth “a good example for other states to follow” and that the recent news is important because the state has the second largest concentration of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States behind California, with the two million individuals belonging to that demographic in New York accounting for about 11% of its total population.
“I think that, yes, this is a big step to show respect and recognition of our culture and our contribution to the development of American history,” said Lei, who immigrated to the United States from China in 2001. “The Lunar New Year is the single most important holiday for all of us, especially those who are from East Asia and Southeast Asia.”
Lei, who is a professor of anthropology at SUNY Oswego and the chair of the Central New York Chinese School, said the passage of the legislation designating the Lunar New Year as a state holiday follows times when Chinese culture has been disrespected and reports of anti-Asian hate crimes over the past several years.
“Shuyuan is amazing as just a senior to come up with this wonderful idea to make Lunar New Year a public holiday in New York State,” Lei said. “She spent tremendous time and efforts promoting this, bringing her poster everywhere to her teachers and a lot of people to present why this is significant not just for herself but also to promote cultural diversity.”
Luan also thanked Assemblyman William Colton, who represents District 47 in Brooklyn and sits on the committee known as the Asian Pacific American Task Force, for his sponsorship of the bill.
“We need to thank him, because without him we couldn’t make this happen,” she said.
Lei said facets of the yearly multi-day Lunar New Year celebration include envelopes of “lucky money” gifted as tokens of good luck and prosperity from the older to younger generations as well as dishes like dumplings, spring rolls and rice cakes.
In signing the legislation ensuring New York schools are not in session when the Lunar New Year begins, Hochul said, “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.”