Revival of the Lunar New Year: Too Many Holidays?

Early this morning, Feb 5, 2019, I was startled by a New Year message for the Year of the Pig from a high school alum and from a Korean community leader of Metropolitan NY, both successful professionals, naturalized and resident in the States more than half a century. In the course of the day there followed altogether over a dozen, including one from a white American professor of mathematics, married to a Korean wife.

What a 180! Still ringing in my ears is the strident official motto, One New Year Only, calling for abolition of the old New Year, according to Korea’s modernization program, which decreed a wholesale repudiation of the backward hermit kingdom that had allowed its colonization by Japan in the first half of the 20th century. Naturally generations of Koreans grew up culturally conflicted with a deep inferiority complex that dogged them even when they emigrated to the US.

Until well into the new millennium many Koreans arriving in America hesitated to disclose their nationality, not minding identification with the Chinese or Japanese, already well established and in the main stream. Anxious to assimilate and Americanize they wouldn’t dream of resuscitating the Lunar New Year, discredited in their home country. Taking the math professor’s case, his Korean wife wouldn’t have demeaned her wonderful American husband with her own cultural baggage. Lo and behold, she has turned him into a militant practitioner. Assertive and demanding, she is anything but shy about who she is.

All thanks to Korea’s phenomenal economic growth. Were Korea still at the bottom of global GDP ranking, instead of near the top, Korean Americans would have been less than so enthusiastic to identify themselves as Korean. Again it is money that talks, makes all the difference. So Korean Americans have to thank their mother country for pulling itself up the ladder of success and restoring Korean Americans their national pride.

But how should we go about it? The reinstatement of the old Korean holiday creates a problem, too many holidays. Back in Korea, before my 1965 emigration to the States, I was amazed by the privileged foreigners, chiefly American military and diplomatic personnel, stationed in Korea, enjoying three kinds of holidays, UN, American (President, Memorial, Independence, Labor, and Veterans), and Korean. Were they in Korea for serious work or for a lark?

Now my countrymen in America seem headed in the same direction. Citing local ordinances for Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays, Tenafly in Bergen County, NJ, known for its high concentration of Koreans, has succeeded in getting Lunar New Year’s Day declared a holiday by its city council. Notice the change to “Lunar” from “Chinese,” as previously known, to emphasize its wider East Asian scope and thereby restore Korean identity. This has inspired other cities and boroughs in the county and elsewhere to emulate the example. Thank God they are not asking for inclusion of other holidays of theirs like March 1, the patriotic uprising in 1919 against Japanese occupation, and Aug 15, Liberation Day. Not so far anyway.

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