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Happy New Year?

By Mikayla Frey

Person wearing foo dog costume

If I wished you a Happy New Year, would you be confused? It does seem a long ways away from January 1st, but only if we use the solar based Georgian calendar. Traditionally, the Chinese use a lunar calendar, a calendar most of their holidays follow, and one that places their January 1st, on this past Friday (February 12th). 

Sere Sal, the Yazidi New Year, begins the second Wednesday after April 14th. Hijri New Year, the Islamic New Year, starts on August 9th. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins September 6th this year. The Hmong New Year follows the end of harvest and is usually in November or December. Each of these holidays comes with unique traditions, ways of celebrating, and specific meaning. If we looked hard enough, we could find a new year celebrated almost all the time. However, often only one of those new years is considered the new year in the United States, causing it to be the de facto "normal" one.

The pressure to fit in, be like their peers, and appear “normal” is something we have all seen youth struggle with. The further from “normal” something is, the more pressure there can be to change or suppress it. This is something that can disproportionally affect youth from minority cultures, as they distance themselves from their cultural holidays and celebrations while adopting those from the majority culture. More importantly, when they do, they not only start to struggle academically, but they lose important parts of themselves in the process.  

So, how do we as educators affect this idea of normal? Do we only wish people a Happy New Year when we are celebrating it, or do we wish youth a Happy New Year when they are celebrating it? 


  • Having students learn about other holidays, not celebrate them. This includes holidays we think are secular.
    • For example, Saint Patrick’s Day may be seen as a fun time to wear green and put up Leprechauns. However, historically and to this day, it is a festival to celebrate the Saint of Ireland, a day when Lenten restrictions on consuming alcohol were lifted. What could be gained by teaching about St. Patrick's Day and talking about how it relates to current Irish stereotypes instead of celebrating it? 
  • Regularly ask youth if they have important holidays coming up. Don't just ask when you have important holidays coming up.
  • Create new shared holidays for everyone in the group. Could you create a new holiday with your group? Perhaps a holiday to celebrate a new program year in 4-H or a new school year?
  • Download Google calendars with holidays relevant to the youth you serve.
  • Read more about it! Check out Anti-bias Education and Holidays: Making Thoughtful Decisions, or try the activities in the Brown Diversity Kit.

This list might not have everything, but its a place to start. What else would you include on this list?  What are ways you promote culturally relevant teaching around holidays for youth?

-- Mikayla Frey, Extension educator

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  1. Mikayla, thank you so much for your post and for raising this important topic. Indeed, recognizing different religious and cultural holidays is an essential way to let people know that you see them, you honor them, and that their culture matters. It is not a negating of shared celebrations--those can be fun points of connection--but acknowledging that the dominant holiday traditions are not everyone's traditions. This can extend to talking with a group about when to schedule club activities, for example, to make sure that we are accommodating everyone's important holidays. And it is a great introductory way to start learning about one another's cultures, as well.

  2. Hi Kathryn,

    I love your point about not negating some, but acknowledging others. It is a super helpful frame to take on.

    It is also something I pondered when writing this post. Is there a way to allow youth to bring forward holidays to celebrate in a way that allows them to build connections without alienating someone else. Definitely good food for thought.


  3. I'm intrigued by the idea of creating new holidays based on a shared experience and identity (like being 4-H'ers or Girl Scouts). Rather than assuming that youth in a program also share the same culture or religion, this instead makes space for building community and choosing together what values and priorities the group desires.

    I wonder how youth workers could implement this idea in environments that don't typically focus on culture or cross-cultural learning. For example, where might this fit into a club that spends most of their time building and flying drones or practicing animal care?

    1. Hi Erin,

      What a wonderful question! I think one of the great things about learning about other holidays is that you don't normally have to have a cultural focus at all to do it. Simply asking youth if they have anything important coming up usually will start that conversation.

      To me the answer to the second part comes in the form of what you said about holidays. If holidays are about shared value and meanings, then that is what holidays should be based around. For example, I believe June 6th, 1941 was the first launch of a drone aircraft. Could youth make a holiday surrounding that, where they all make an experimental drone to fly? Or perhaps host an airshow at a local park?

      Animal care, to me, is about compassion. So taking that shared value of compassion and then building something around it. Maybe the holiday becomes "Trim your animals nail day" and youth teach about how and why to trim animal nails. Maybe it turns into a fundraiser or service project for a local pet shelter.

      For any topic I think the important piece is about taking what the youth are passionate about and using that to brainstorm ideas.

  4. I had a similar thought as Erin. I like the idea of creating a new holiday based on similar interests and understandings.

    One part of the article that caught my eye was where you said "learn about other holidays, not celebrate them". I think this gives youth a deeper appreciation for the what and whys of holidays. I really like that approach and way of thinking, it reinforces that one does not need to celebrate a certain holiday to acknowledge it and know about it.

    1. Exactly! One of the great things about this approach too is that you can see both similarities and differences. Many people might have traditions centered around bringing family together, but how they bring family together can be very different. Plus it allows for us to talk about multiple ways of celebrating the same holiday! Christmas dinner is Japan is frequently KFC, but if you asked what a Christmas meal in the US looks like you'd probably get a very different answer.

  5. What an excellent article. Thank you for explaining how it may feel from the other perspective. There were many good points in here for me to reflect on.

    1. I'm glad it was helpful to you! It was great reflection for me as well, even as I was writing it. If you have questions or other thoughts I'd love to have a conversation about it!


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