Lunar New Year proposed as Washington’s next state holiday

A bill to make it a legal holiday awaits a key vote. Some Asian American constituents were opposed, saying the chosen date is wrong.

OLYMPIA — When a group of residents set out to organize an inaugural Lunar New Year event in Edmonds in 2022, they anticipated a few hundred folks might attend.

More than 1,000 showed up.

“Touching for us,” recalled Karin Mei Butler, “was the reaction of many of our Asian-American neighbors who saw their cultural traditions represented and celebrated for the very first time in their communities.”

Butler, a business executive and president of the Multicultural Association of Edmonds, shared the story to members of a state House committee considering legislation to make the Lunar New Year a state holiday. She encouraged them to pass it.

“You have that opportunity before you to give that joy to all our fellow Washingtonians,” she said.

There are 11 paid state legal holidays. Among them are New Year’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth.

The Lunar New Year would be added to the list under House Bill 1516. It would designate the Saturday before the beginning of the Lunar New Year as the legal holiday.

It would be treated a little different than other state holidays. Typically, when one falls on a Saturday, it is observed on the preceding Friday. Lunar New Year would be an exception and observed only on Saturday, per the bill.

Rep. My-Linh Thai, D-Bellevue, a native of Vietnam, is the prime sponsor. She said she introduced it to recognize the broad contributions of the state’s growing Asian-American community.

The celebration is about “making sure the people feel they belong,” she said.

Lunar New Year is a cultural celebration that begins with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends on the first full moon of the lunar calendar, generally a period between late January and late February. It is celebrated in many East Asian countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, sometimes under different names.

California made it a state holiday under a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September.

Edmonds City Council Member Will Chen and Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright each said they back Washington doing the same.

“Over a billion people celebrate it around the world,” Chen said in an interview. “It’s a huge holiday with a long, long history.”

Several Asian American constituents opposed the bill in the Feb. 8 hearing.

Linda Yang, of Bellevue, director of Washington Asians For Equality, and Vivian Dong, of Lynnwood, each said the holiday should be celebrated on the actual Lunar New Year.

“Making the date for the Lunar holiday on a different day than the actual occurrence would create confusion and lead to diminished awareness of the actual Lunar New Year and all the traditions associated with the most important festival in our culture,” Yang said.

Dong called it “misguided and culturally insensitive” to not properly align the dates.

“It is essentially saying our cultural celebrations are not important enough to be recognized on their actual date and that (they) can be modified and adjusted to suit the needs of others,” she said.