Lunar New Year statutory holiday debated in B.C.

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      At this year’s Gung Haggis Fat Choy celebration, diners simultaneously celebrated the start of the year of the rabbit and Robbie Burns’s 252nd birthday by enjoying Chinese-Scottish fusion dishes such as “haggis won ton” while a bagpipe band skirled on-stage.

      In Chinatown’s annual new year’s parade on Sunday (February 6), Japanese taiko drummers and First Nations dancers will join Chinese lion-dance teams and martial-arts troupes to delight an expected crowd of more than 50,000 spectators—half of whom do not traditionally celebrate the Lunar New Year but will brave the congestion anyway.

      These scenes are typical of Lunar New Year celebrations in Vancouver, a city where cultural blending is the norm. But should the new year—which Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Tibetan communities observe—become a statutory holiday in B.C.?

      In 2006, Vancouver–Mount Pleasant NDP MLA Jenny Kwan suggested that the legislative assembly adopt the Lunar New Year as a holiday. In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Kwan said that she originally proposed the holiday to “recognize the contributions of B.C.’s multicultural communities and to acknowledge that the Lunar New Year has become a holiday that engages people across all cultures”.

      “Canadians have overcome some dark chapters in history,” Kwan explained, “but there are still lessons to be learned, and embracing Lunar New Year as a statutory holiday is another means of furthering the celebration of multiculturalism.”

      The legislative assembly did not implement Kwan’s suggestion, and the holiday debate had lost traction until recently, when Liberal leadership candidate Christy Clark proposed a “family day” holiday in February to break up the long stretch between New Year’s Day and Good Friday.

      Although Clark’s proposal has gained a lot of attention, the mixed public reaction means the Lunar New Year may still be in the running to become the province’s newest statutory holiday.

      One reason the government might hesitate to give such status to the Lunar New Year is that recognizing a cultural celebration of only some B.C. residents might seem exclusionary to those from other cultural backgrounds (although three out of B.C.’s nine statutory holidays are Christian-based ones).

      Henry Yu, a professor of history at UBC, argues that “recognizing Lunar New Year is a gesture that comes with some unevenness. For example, Japanese people observe the solar calendar year and Persian people observe the Persian calendar. Multiculturalism should be about recognizing all ethnic communities.”

      Yu also thinks that a Lunar New Year holiday might not make sense logistically, because “Lunar New Year falls on a different day every year, and in any case there are already established social practices in place that allow workers to take time off work to observe cultural or religious holidays.”

      On the other hand, Todd Wong, founder of the annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy celebrations, is in favour of making the Lunar New Year a public holiday because he thinks it would help promote cross-cultural exchange among all B.C. residents.

      This year, Wong is excited to have cohosted the first Nanaimo Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pow Wow Dinner to support reconciliation of and friendship between aboriginal and nonaboriginal people.

      “Food and music are great equalizers,” Wong said. “The Lunar New Year is a celebration with great food and music, and that draws people together and helps people recognize their commonalities.”

      Whether or not it becomes a statutory holiday, the Lunar New Year is an ideal time to reflect on how far Canada has come since the era of head taxes, internment camps, and residential schools.

      The past century of Chinese immigration to Canada can be broken down into three parts, Yu suggested: “From 1885 to 1923, around 100,000 Chinese came to Canada despite exorbitant head taxes, but after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, less than a hundred Chinese came to Canada. It was not until 1967, with the revision of the Immigration Act, when you got mass immigration again of people who were nonwhite.”

      Metro Vancouver now has the highest proportion of residents of Chinese descent in North America (18 percent, according to the 2006 census).

      “The point is not about self-flagellation or doing penance,” Yu said. “It is about recognizing the reality that multicultural Canada is only about 40 years old. It is great that we are celebrating the Lunar New Year together, but we also have to look at how far we have left to go.”



      Ken Lawson

      Feb 3, 2011 at 7:02pm

      Debated by whom Chiu?

      Todd Wong

      Feb 3, 2011 at 7:44pm

      In 2005, SFU Recreation & Athletics department asked me to help them create an event to bring together the large Asian student population with the adopted Scottish Traditions of Simon Fraser University. We created the SFU Gung Haggis Fat Choy Festival that featured "dragon cart racing" and "human curling" and lots of haggis eating. Participating students loved it.

      Too bad that SFU administration and ceremonies canceled it, and the annual Burns ceremonies at the 3 SFU campuses for 2011 - citing "budgetary reasons". But come on... how much is a haggis, and a volunteer bagpiper?

      I've always participated in the Vancouver St. Patrick's Day Parade, by adding a dragon boat, or Chinese dragon, but last year, it was St. Patrick's Day parade and Celtic Fest that was canceled due to the 2010 Winter Olympics. Ironic that VANOC CEO John Furlong was himself born in Ireland.

      Vancouver Chinatown parade was also almost canceled too, due to the Olympics. But it was saved by moving up the parade start time, to allow for street security for an afternoon hockey game.

      It would be interesting to see an event that would incorporate both Naroush and St. Patrick's Day. We could call it "Persian Irish Spring Festival".

      Personally, I also think that St. Patrick's Day and Robbie Burns Day should also be considered for holidays too. And I initiated the 2008 City of Vancouver Proclamation of Tartan Day, April 6th, which was also passed in Canadian Parliament in 2010, to help celebrate and recognize Scottish contributions and heritage in Canada.

      But I think priority for the next provincial and national holidays should be given to events that can bring diverse communities together in unity. Thus a "Lunar New Year Festival" that ALL communities can participate in - NOT a "Chinese New Year" - but something that can also include Robbie Burns Day, and other cultural communities.

      A few years ago, I was asked to participate in a "Lunar New Year" event at Chief Maquinna Elementary School. Many if not all of the schools cultural groups was represented and included. I performed songs on my accordion, that were Italian, Chinese and Scottish in origin. It was a great time for all the kids, who sang along to "When Asian/Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "My Haggis Lies Over the Ocean, My Chow Mein Lies Over the Sea."

      And we should also recognize:
      February 15th Flag Day - the day on which our Maple Leaf flag was unveiled in 1965 (much better than Cristy Clark's proposed "Family Day".

      November 19th Douglas Day - the day in 1858, which Governor James Douglas proclaimed the Crown Colony of British Columbia, in Ft. Langley - thus saving BC from very possible annexation to the United States. Douglas himself was born in British Guyana to a Scottish father and a Creole Free Black mother. His wife Amelia was Metis. He is known as the "Father of British Columbia"

      In 1858, He had a vision for a multicultural British Columbia, that was left unrealized by subsequent governors and premiers who succeeded at turning BC into a "White Man's Province", enacting various legislations to restrict Non-White immigrants to BC, as well as deport Non-White Canadian born citizens, such as the Japanese-Canadian internment, dispersal and re-patriation policies.

      Cheers, Todd


      Feb 4, 2011 at 1:21pm

      Referring the Chinese New Year as Lunar New Year is just WRONG and stupid. The celebration will loose its cultural identity. If you are real Chinese, you will be defending the festival as being Chinese origin.


      Feb 6, 2011 at 5:53pm

      i think it's a great idea to make it a stat holiday and promote it as a celebration of BC's multiculturalism. i love the idea of bringing together different cultures in one celebration (or many!). recognizing cultural traditions is important, but i think that every culture is dynamic and will be influenced by the world around them (and that's a good thing). we're lucky to have people from so many different backgrounds in this province (and this country).


      Feb 7, 2011 at 1:10pm

      I think this idea is half baked at best. As soon as one removes themselves from the 604 area code, the cultural relevance of any Asian holiday is nearly non existent. Vancouver Island, the Interior, Northern BC and The Charlottes are decidedly non Asian places. The costs associated with the increase in stat pay and lost productivity for a day of work (province wide) makes no sense when it's strictly of benefit to those living in the Lower Mainland and almost nowhere else. While we're asleep at the wheel, why don't we make Mandarin an official language in this province?