Dumplings & chocolate hearts

Is it just me? I was brought up knowing that February 14th and Valentine’s Day are one in the same. Someone mentions the date and immediately I see cupids and chocolate hearts. End of story. Now in 2010, I learn that February 14th is the Lunar New Year – very first day of the Year of the Tiger. How can this be – and what do we do about Valentine’s Day? To be honest, this is not a day I particularly want to share with another holiday.

Here’s why: Where I grew up in the Ohio heartland, you were what your neighbors were. “Culture” meant the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, and “multiculturalism” was not yet on the horizon. The very same holidays were celebrated in our homes and in our classrooms. Not only did our teachers proclaim Valentine’s Day with red foil and doilies, they taught us to make Easter baskets, cornucopias and Christmas cards. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day …these were the holidays that defined our year for us and, like the seasons, marked its passage.

As my world broadened, windows opened onto cultural beliefs and traditions that enlightened me in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I was growing up in Cleveland. Along with many others, the opportunity to extend these understandings/experiences is a big reason why I chose to live here – so that my family and I can enrich our worlds through those of others. My NYC children grew up with very different reference points from those of my Cleveland childhood. For them, it’s always been a given that families celebrate according to their own beliefs. And classrooms play a key role as places for the sharing of diverse beliefs and traditions – all of them equal in mystery and magnitude.

Today, as a resident of Chinatown, I draw a deep breath before the New Year arrives. I know our street will be clogged with lion dancers, red confetti, long-branched cherry blossoms and never-ending, clamorous parades. But then, I need only to step onto the D train for the clamor to disappear instantly as I make my way uptown to Discovery. Maybe this year, I will bring just a little of the Year of the Tiger to our Upper West Side kids, so they can hear that this year February 14th is wearing two very different cultural hats. What fun that is!