Just another day: Lunar New Year at NYU

The unrelenting nature of being a student at NYU and resident of New York City can take the meaning out of most things in life. Lunar New Year is no exception.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

NYU students celebrate Lunar New Year despite the pandemic and classes. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Alex Tran, Culture Editor

“Lunar New Year.”

An alarm popped up on my laptop screen, the way it would for an assignment, class, meeting or work shift. I was scrambling my way through the mountain of homework after the first week of class, getting ready for the second and undoubtedly even more stressful one, while replying to emails with varying levels of politeness.

This is not how I remember my previous Lunar New Year’s eves. Coming from Vietnam, Lunar New Year, or Tet Nguyen Dan (Tet) in Vietnamese, has always been a special occasion for me — a time of reunion, remembrance and reflection. Cheesy alliteration aside, it was a time of rest. I used to get two weeks of break from school and homework, which I spent cooking with my mom or gardening with my dad before we lay in bed for a whole week watching Tet-themed TV shows while waiting for meals that produced leftover specialties. 

Now, instead, my Tet is a short call with my family so we don’t end up crying in front of each other, after which I glue my eyes back to the computer like I would any other day of the year.

To be fair, I was lucky enough to have a sign language Zoom class when the new year came, during which I watched the annual Lunar New Year’s eve TV show in full. Lunar New Year is not listed as a religious holiday at NYU — and it is certainly not religious — so asking for a day off could be seen as lying to my professor. And regardless of the reason, it’s still the student’s responsibility to catch up after missing a class. Being the lazy nerd that I am, those two reasons are enough to deter me from sending that email.

Apart from the aforementioned remote class, NYU’s new COVID-19 policies certainly did not help the festivities. Steinhardt first-year Jessica Xu, a member of the Chinese Student Society, shared how her club celebrated 春节, one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture. Like me, Xu wished we could have a day off from any responsibilities.

“We had a [members-only online] event in our own department where we played some games and drew a lottery,” Xu said. “I did video call my whole family earlier … and will be making hotpot at my cousin’s in New Jersey, but it’s really not the same because I know I will have to catch up with schoolwork again.”

Anh Tran, a CAS senior and the vice president of NYU’s Vietnamese Student Association, similarly recounted his disappointment with how the holiday played out for his last year in college.

“We might have a member-only virtual karaoke night, but I do miss our events in the past with traditional games and food given out so we can all celebrate together in person,” Tran said. “I overslept through the annual TV show today so the festivity in me is pretty much nowhere to be found.”

Tran did, however, plan to go to 46 Bakery on Mott Street to bring his Vietnamese friends cozy bowls of beancurd, which is a soy-based dessert eaten in his home country. This is not a traditional new year dish, but at $3.50 per delicious bowl, it’s one of the better options in this part of the city in terms of quality and price. 

Receiving the piping hot bowl of velvety white joy from Tran’s hand, I gave myself a break from trying to survive the semester to finally sit down with my mantra in mind: reunion, remembrance and reflection. While college life might have made it more difficult to actually put my mantra into practice in the way I’m accustomed to, new meanings come to replace them. The fast pace at least spares little time to bemoan dumb mistakes made in the past year or to mourn lost traditions. Instead of sitting at the table with my extended family, about which I might have grown apathetic after 18 years in Vietnam, I might attempt to make traditional food that I didn’t even bother to think of making back home. Or maybe not. 

Another alert popped up on my computer: “Creative Coding Presentation.”

I have a presentation tomorrow.

Contact Alex Tran at [email protected].