By Jane Han
NEW YORK _ For many Koreans in the U.S., Lunar New Year, or ``Seollal,’’ isn’t just a day to enjoy rice cakes and folk games. It’s a day to make clear that the holiday shouldn’t be mislabeled as Chinese New Year.
From news stories to school calendars, a majority of established media and institutions in the U.S. understand and refer to the first day of the lunar calendar as the ``Chinese New Year,’’ says Karen Mok, the head of Bergen County Korean Parents Association in New Jersey.
``This isn’t right since people who aren’t familiar with Asian culture think the holiday is a celebration exclusively for China,’’ she said, adding that the fete should be called ``Lunar New Year’’ instead.
To help raise awareness, Korean parents of Bergen County schools held an all-day celebration of games and activities at a local elementary school on Thursday to acquaint strangers to Korean culture.
``We’re not trying to pressure Americans to label the holiday as Seollal,’’ said Mok. ``We’re just trying to set the record straight that one of Korea’s biggest holidays of the year isn’t Chinese.’’
In New York, another awareness campaign for Lunar New Year is slated for next week.
Korean student associations at New York University plan to hold a Seollal festival on Feb. 10 to introduce the origin and meaning of the holiday, alongside traditional food and performances including Korean classical music ``gugak’’ and Korean opera ``pansori.’’
``Chinese New Year is basically understood in the U.S. as a new year for all Asians,’’ Kang Woo-sung, vice president of NYU Korean Graduate Students Association, wrote on his blog, KoreaBrandImage.com.
Chinatowns across America kick off large-scale Lunar New Year festivals to invite foreigners and capitalize on the holiday, but Koreans and Koreatowns lack that kind of energy, which in turn results in very low awareness, he explained.
``It feels like our cultural identity is being ignored because the unique aspects and celebrations of Korea are getting confused with those of China,’’ Kang said, stressing that more efforts should be made to properly acquaint Americans to the first day of the lunar calendar as ``Lunar New Year.’’
A number of parent groups, Korean associations and other interest groups from California to Georgia have introduced comprehensive Seollal programs to promote the holiday to non-Koreans.
``We want to let it be known that what most people know as the Chinese New Year is appreciated and celebrated differently in many Asian countries, including Korea, Vietnam and Thailand,’’ said Kim Choong-beom, organizer of an annual Seollal festival in Irvine, California. ``China is big, but it’s not all of Asia.’’