2014 Chinese New Year (Year of the Horse) celebration at Pechanga Resort & Casino. [Image: Nandaro / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

Lunar New Year An Official Holiday in California


Thanks to Governor Gavin Newsom, Californians of all backgrounds can take off to celebrate the esteemed Winter holiday.

As of September 30, 2022, Lunar New Year is now an official holiday in California. Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2596 into effect, which grants state employees eight hours of vacation, annual leave, and personal holiday time to celebrate going forward.

Lunar New Year, otherwise known as Chinese New Year, is a cultural celebration of the New Year based on the lunar calendar. It is celebrated in many East Asian countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and others, sometimes under different names. It is celebrated around late January to early February. In a press release, Governor Newsom emphasized the cultural importance Asian Americans have to the state of California and recommended all Californians celebrate Lunar New Year.

State Assemblymember Evan Low introduced the bill in February of this year and stated the implementation of the bill could still encounter some hurdles, including the fact that Lunar New Year falls on different dates each year, determining which public agencies receive the holiday, and the fiscal impact the holiday would have on the state budget. The bill also came at a somewhat tumultuous time as anti-Asian hate crimes were significantly on the rise during the pandemic. Nevertheless, the California state legislature has emphasized investing in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community since 2021, most recently highlighted by Gov. Gavin Newsom signing off on a $166 million “equity budget.”

According to the 2020 Census, California has the largest Asian American population in the United States, with over 6 million people. Chinese, Filipino, Indian, and Vietnamese communities make up the top AAPI communities in the state. The population grew by 25% in the last decade, making it California’s fastest growing ethnic group.

The city of Monterey Park, a community which is majority Asian American, hosts their Lunar New Year festival annually. It includes many food stalls, amusement rides, and live entertainment. In past years it has drawn attendances of over 100,000 people from around Southern California. It will be held from January 21-22, 2023 and is an all-day event.

Similarly, San Francisco hosts its own Chinese New Year Festival and Parade, organized by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which includes a Miss Chinatown pageant, a basketball jamboree (tournament), a YMCA run, and a flower market fair.

San Jose holds the San Jose Tet Festival, a Vietnamese New Year celebration. This past January, the festival returned after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and featured live music, food, karaoke, martial arts, calligraphy displays, face painting, and contests for ao dai, or traditional Vietnamese flowing garments. In Vietnamese, the holiday is called Tết Nguyên Đán, which means “Feast of the First Morning” in English.

Overall, Lunar New Year becoming an official holiday highlights the dynamic and growing significance Asian Americans hold and will continue to hold in the state of California.

Niles Rodgers is an Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He graduated with a Master's degree in Asian Studies from George Washington University, and is a native of the DMV region.