Chinese New Year across the world: US schools wake up to holiday

Starting this year, New York students who wish to celebrate Chinese New Year need not skip school. That is because a new law signed last December allows schools there to declare the first day a holiday for all their students.

The difference will not be felt this year as the first day happens to fall within the mid-winter break for most schools. But some like Staten Island Academy say they are keen to give their students a break when the next Chinese New Year rolls around.

"Acknowledging one another's holiday traditions is a major step towards seeing others for who they are," said Ms Nicole Tolnes, manager of communications for school and summer programmes at Staten Island Academy, which has students aged three to 18 and a significant international student population.

Said New York Senator Daniel Squadron, after the law was passed: "This Lunar New Year, families across the city can celebrate their most important day of the year without worrying about their kids being marked absent from school."

The new law is one of the most recent indications that Chinese New Year is becoming a significant part of American consciousness, especially as the Chinese population continues to grow across the country.

According to the 2010 US Census, an estimated 14.7 million US residents were of Asian descent and the largest group - about four million - are Chinese.

The projected number of US residents who will identify themselves as Asian or Asian in combination with one or more other races in 2050 is 40.6 million, or 9 per cent of the total population.

Add to this the growing number of Chinese tourists visiting the US - 1.8 million in 2013, up 23 per cent from 2012 - it is no wonder that commercial entities across the US are also taking part in the festivities to draw crowds.

Hotels and retailers such as Bloomingdale's and Macy's will have performances, decorations and special merchandise.

Macy's, for example, is selling a limited edition tote bag with a goat design and giving away a specially designed charm with the Chinese character for goat at seven selected stores. Bloomingdale's will hand out hongbao containing store gift cards to customers.

As for displays and decorations, visitors to the Empire State Building will see three rams in the lobby windows which are supposed to signify auspiciousness, kindness and beauty.

A number of Las Vegas hotels have put up decorations. The Bellagio, for instance, has a Chinese New Year themed garden display.

A shopping centre that is big on Chinese New Year celebrations and decorations is the Lakeforest mall in Maryland, with its 21m dragons, 9m calligraphy banners, and a 64m representation of the Great Wall of China.

A dragon dance will kick off two weekends worth of performances at the mall, including Chinese opera, martial arts, and calligraphy demonstrations.

But events and performances are not enough for the Asian Community Service Centre in Virginia.

Instead of just promoting culture, it will use the celebrations to promote the value of "compassion" by featuring the Chinese character prominently in the decor of its one-day event that is open to the public. "We Chinese have 5,000 years of tradition and values, and we should try to promote it to others," said Ms Tiny Tang, its vice-president.

simlinoi@s-ph.com.sg