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New York City is now the largest school district in the nation to observe the Eid holidays as well as the Lunar New Year.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced these additions to the Department of Education (DOE) calendar, during the last school year and the changes have now gone into effect. As a result, students had no school on September 24 (Eid al-Adha), and will be off for February 4 (Lunar New Year) and July 17 (Eid al-Fitr), the latter affecting students enrolled in summer school.
Eid al-Fitr, translated as “The Festival of Fast-Breaking,” is a feast signifying the end of Ramadan. Families observe Eid al-Fitr over the course of three days, during which they celebrate by praying and giving to the less fortunate.
Eid al-Adha, “The Festival of Sacrifice,” is also a three-day celebration marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to the holy land of Mecca. Muslims celebrate this holiday by sacrificing an animal, and they divide the meat between family, friends, and the poor.
With students off for Eid al-Adha, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah, they had four days off from school in September.
Some welcomed this change simply for the extra days off, while others thought of it as more than just a reprieve from school.
“I feel as though it is an amazing step in the acceptance of Muslims into American society,” stated sophomore Tamanna Saidi. “It allows people to be more aware of this growing religion. It helps make people more open-minded and accepting towards a group of people that have been discriminated against for so long.”
Junior Ishabul Haque believes the addition will significantly benefit Townsend Harris High School students. “The addition of these holidays makes it easier to miss school to celebrate and not worry about missing class work where, in schools like THHS, missing one day of class can affect you,” he explained.
Muslim activists have spent nine years petitioning for the addition of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha in the DOE’s calendar. During his time in office, former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg responded to the efforts to add the Muslim holidays by saying that students need to spend more time in class, not less.
“In prior years, I was forced to choose between my education and my faith, but I would always end up going to school,” sophomore Halima Tokhi expressed.
On the other hand, Senior Fahim Nousad states, “I have never gotten a perfect attendance record in any of my years, and a small part goes out to the DOE not accepting the religious holiday as an excuse.”
Some students even believe that this change signifies more than not having to weigh their religion against their education.
“For me and Muslims as a whole, it signifies a transition in our society,” stated senior Abdoulaye Diallo. “For quite sometime, many believed it was unfair that Jews and Christians were allowed to observe their holidays throughout the year. However, with the addition of Eid to the holidays being observed, there’s equality between the three Abrahamic religions.”
Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina have also decided to add Lunar New Year, which will fall on February 8.
Lunar New Year is a tradition that has been practiced for centuries. Families predominantly in East and Central Asia celebrate the holiday by gathering for a large meal and well-wishing.
The holiday is observed by honoring deities and ancestors and is coordinated by the cycles of the moon.
Senior Peony Tse believes “it was just a matter of time before the DOE added these holidays to the school calendar.” She added, “The NYC population is so diverse, and so it would be unfair to recognize holidays for some and not for the others that make up a large section of the [NYC] population.”
Sophomore Lauren Lee adds, “Lunar New Year plays a big role in many Chinese families. There are countless students who celebrate this holiday, but because of school, they were not able to spend as much time as they could honoring their culture.”
As with Eid, the addition of Lunar New Year has impacted students in different ways. Some no longer feel held back from full embracing their roots.
“Now I have gained something [that] I never fully realized was missing from my life: the chance to fully honor my culture,” Peony explained. “I understood that not attending school because of Lunar New Year would’ve counted as an excused absence before, but it still felt like I had to choose between two important things in my life: my education and my culture.”