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Hey Kids, How About A New School Holiday!

The D.C. government, where avoiding work is a high art, has a new idea: Yet another legal holiday!

Last year, Mayor Tony Williams signed into law a measure that established April 16 of each year as Emancipation Day, commemorating the day in 1862 when Abe Lincoln freed Washington's 3,000 slaves and ended human bondage in the District of Columbia. Now Emancipation Day is a day off for public school students and city government workers. In a majority black city where Lincoln worked, that move made political and even moral sense.

Now comes Ward 2 council member Jack Evans with a proposal to declare the first day of each year's lunar calendar to be a legal holiday and thus another day off for all city government and school system workers. The idea is to honor the city's Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean communities with a day of their own. San Francisco and New York have done this already, so why not Washington?

Well, for one thing, the District's Asian population is but 15,000 people--just 2.9 percent of the total, according to the 2004 U.S. Census American Community Survey. That's well under Asians' 4.2 percent share of the United States population and not even in the same ballpark as the Asian populations in the two cities that have made Lunar New Year an official holiday: New York City is 11.3 percent Asian, while San Francisco is 33.2 percent Asian. And New York only went part way: Parking regulations are suspended on Lunar New Year, but government offices are open, workers must work and schools are open (Asian students may be excused from tests on those days.)

Yet Evans easily snapped up 10 co-sponsors for his legislation--the entire D.C. Council except for Vincent Orange (Ward 5) and Phil Mendelson (At Large).

In these times of hypersensitivity to and exaggeration of ethnic differences, a measure such as the Lunar New Year proposal racks up the votes almost automatically. But at some point, a bit of reason ought to slip into the discussion. Several Asian groups are leading the charge to persuade local governments to put Lunar New Year on a par with other ethnicities' holidays. The Howard County Council passed a measure earlier this year prohibiting government public hearings on the holiday.

But we live in a region with good-sized populations from just about every corner of the planet. Each country has its own national day, and every religion has its own holidays. The possibilities could make the Montgomery County school system's snow day policy look tough by comparison.

There's a simple and fair way to settle this: Close government and schools on no ethnic or religious holidays. That way, everybody can do the turkey, the official new year, and your basic U.S. government-sanctioned holidays together, and those folks who feel the need to do their own thing on their own days can take a vacation day.

By Marc Fisher |  April 28, 2006; 7:17 AM ET
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Let's aim for the best of all worlds. Allow governments recognize a slew of holidays and then expect students to be in school on Emancipation Day, Veterans Day, Columbus Day, and so forth to actually learn about their significance to our people? If schools must, take kids downtown to see the Emancipation or Chinese New Year parades. Otherwise you're just creating more days to stay home and play Xbox....

On the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion that your disdain for fake ethno-religious holidays that aren't even sanctioned by the federal goverment *gasp!* is just another pretext to move "Spring Break" away from Easter Sunday, for no better reason than to inconvenience the majority Christian population. Or am I reading too much into your simple and fair solution?

Posted by: athea | April 28, 2006 8:44 AM

I'm for more days off. We work too much as it is anyway.

Posted by: J | April 28, 2006 9:42 AM

"pretext to move "Spring Break" away from Easter Sunday, for no better reason than to inconvenience the majority Christian population"

Oh for God's sake. For most people, Spring Break is nowhere near Easter. Just ask any college student. And I'm sorry if you're inconvienced - do what most of us do and take a few days off, just like every Jewish person does, since their holidays aren't "official days" off.

I'm Christian, and I like Mark's idea - I was always in favor of getting certain days off (Thanksgiving, MLK, New Year's, etc.) and then getting a set number of loating holidays. That way I could take off for Easter and Christmas, my Jewish friend could take off for Passover and Yom Kippur, Mulism could take off for thair holy days, and lo and one's offended!

Posted by: Columbia | April 28, 2006 9:44 AM

what a cinco de mayo for all the illegals, or are we only sensitive to your culture if you have greencards?

how about we start assymilating these groups? how about we deny any importance of cultural preservation. how about we understand that the only way to progress is to break free of tradition and the self-importance of one's "people."

Posted by: 2 minuteman | April 28, 2006 9:59 AM

Oh, say can you see......maybe we should ask the latinos what they want since they are trying to modify everything to blend into their culture!

Posted by: LM | April 28, 2006 10:00 AM

I'm still trying to wrap my head around why they can't go to school all year round. Oh yeah, I forgot, the teachers unions!

Posted by: Stick | April 28, 2006 10:01 AM

If there's one thing DC workers need more of, it's a reason to work even less. There may be no larger collection of overworked, highly competent, and undercompensated employees anywhere else on Earth.

Posted by: JD | April 28, 2006 10:08 AM

No holidays? What did your union grandparents fight for Marc?

Posted by: Don | April 28, 2006 10:16 AM

This is a very interesting problem. Really gets to the quick of issues re what we have in common and how much we should honor---or at least provide means for the expression of---differences.

For those of us whose religious holidays have been the basis of the establishment of school calendars and business closings, it's a little shocking to contemplate not having those days be a central part of the culture---even if we are not, ourselves, religious.

Just imagine Christmas w/ the stores, the banks, the Post Office, schools, and such all open! It boggles the mind. This is, at the very least, a humbling thought experiment.

Posted by: THS | April 28, 2006 11:02 AM

Don, maybe you should actually read the thing. Marc is just against MORE holidays designed to pander to certain groups. He says
"That way, everybody can do the turkey, the official new year, and your basic U.S. government-sanctioned holidays together"

The feds probably get more holidays than most workers (well, maybe not banks since they find any reason to close). I mean, how many businesses close on Columbus day?

Posted by: tallbear | April 28, 2006 11:02 AM

Me again. I find this issue very interesting, because, as I said above, I've been thinking a lot lately, mainly because of the recent focus on immigration, of how much commonality and of what sort (i.e., language, religion, historical experience, cuisine) we need to make us "stick together" as a people.

If one of the social purposes--or, at least, social consequences--of holidays is to create and strengthen a sense of identity among the celebrants, then perhaps the advantages of having multiple holidays that everyone can be drawn into is a better choice than having a few state-sanctioned holidays. The idea would be a sort of "everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day" spirit. What's historically been called Chinese New Year and is, I guess, now called Lunar New Year, has had this quality in the cities where it has been celebrated. That is, lots of people go to the parade; fewer, but still lots, have a special meal in a Chinese restaurant; only the Chinese get into the more fine-grained aspects of the holiday.

Some holidays, probably those that don't have a strongly religious character, lend themselves to a strategy of this sort more readily than others. Certainly holidays that have a strong element of fun (i.e., parades, feast, gift-giving, special music) are more amenable to becoming parts of the broader culture than those that involve an element of sacrifice (i.e., fasting, silence, charitable giving, other good works).

There are a lot of ways we could go on this issue as a society---not only on which holidays should be celebrated, but how much local variation we should allow, whether the holiday should be a focus of attention in school as some civic holidays (e.g., MLK, Jr. Day) are, even though others (e.g., Veterans' Day) are typically not.

Am looking forward to hearing what others have to say on this topic.

Posted by: THS | April 28, 2006 11:27 AM

Not all lunar calendars start the year at the same time. The Jewish calendar is also lunar, but the new year is celebrated in the fall, although technically it is the seventh month of the year, which means the REAL lunar Jewish new year would fall some time in late winter or early spring, which would be close to the equinox, which is around the time of the Persian (Zoroastrian) new year . . ....

Do we get all of them off?

Posted by: Meridian Hill | April 28, 2006 11:31 AM

Take the rest of the day off everyone!!!!

Posted by: Worker Bee | April 28, 2006 12:33 PM

L'Enfant was French. Maybe we can all get July 14 off?

Posted by: tdp | April 28, 2006 3:08 PM

The last thing we need is to have more days off in the school year. We live in MC and I consider it a mircle when we have a full week of school, considering all the holidays, teacher training days, spring break etc. The school system seems to think that everyone can just drop everyting for these days off. Due to spring break and other days off that I can't take off, my son's daycare bill for this month will be over $700, and that is only for before and aftercare.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2006 4:19 PM

You are a plagiarizing imbecile. I can't believe you actually write for The Post.

Posted by: Jason | April 30, 2006 6:13 PM

find it O)FFENSIVE that Marc Fisher says that fthe "fair" way to solve the holiday dispute(s) is to end recognition of all holidays. What!!!!!!????????? So, to placate 4% of the population, we smite the other 85% who have had their traditions as part of the United States culture since day 1? That's what he calls fair. Maybe in George Orwell's 1984 world. Not here. I find that offensive.

Posted by: Peter Lowenfeld | May 1, 2006 11:16 AM

Oh my! I thought this was going to be Cinqo de Mayo (excuse the spelling). When I was a child the USA had May Day but that has been replaced with the Mexican Holiday in my local elementary school. Now we apparently celebrate the workers May Day as well.

Posted by: Cinqo de Mayo in DC??? | May 3, 2006 8:53 PM

Remember the odd Virginia Lee/Jackson/King Day? Let us have Emancipation Day everywhere- at least it is relative to our country not Mexico. However, keep the kids in schgool with special assemblies, etc just like they do on Veteran's Day. The only reason Fairfax lets them out for Columbus Day is travel team soccer and it's tournamants.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 3, 2006 8:56 PM

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