For many children who are born and raised following different cultural beliefs and traditions, the New Year we just celebrated in January is one of many! I think it is important for educators to take into consideration that children may be celebrating a “new year” in their own homes at different times throughout the year. I know that when I was growing up it was really confusing to have multiple New Year’s celebrations!
Today, I think about my own son who is half-Bengali and half-Guajarati. He will have three New Year’s celebrations every year: 1. The Gujarati New Year that comes the day after Diwali 2. The American New Year that always occurs on January 1st and 3. The Bengali New Year which is held in April. He will wonder why he is celebrating a “new year” over and over again!
For parents, it is important to help children understand that because they are part of different cultural worlds, they have celebrations that stem from different calendars. The Western or solar calendar is based on twelve months and is an arithmetical calendar which has a strict set of rules. With these rules, New Year’s is always set to be on January 1.
The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the lunar phase and usually changes based on observing the cycles of the moon. This is an astronomical calendar. With this calendar, it is difficult to have a set date for events; as a result, the date for celebrating New Year’s is always changing. Children are usually told during that month what day New Year’s will be on. Growing up, I remember this being particularly confusing for me!
For educators, it is important to keep in mind that bi-cultural and multi-cultural children come to school with different ways of knowing and being in the world. One of those ways is having multiple New Year’s celebrations be a part of their lives. Another way of being is having calendars in which dates and celebrations are not set ahead of time—but are always changing year after year. Scholars have written about these funds of knowledge or the knowledge that students come to school with from their families and cultural backgrounds. In the United States, we have started to acknowledge and celebrate Chinese New Years. However, often times, children from other cultural backgrounds do not get their cultural “new year” acknowledged in the classroom unless the teacher is from the same race/ethnicity as the student. By acknowledging this with a simple, “Happy New Year” in the classroom, teachers can start to be more inclusive to the needs of children from different cultural backgrounds. This will help them grow and develop with a better understanding of who they are and what it means to be part of different cultural worlds.