Celebrating my first Lunar New Year without family

My first memories of Lunar New Year were waking up early, stepping into an Áo Dài dress and groggily entering my family’s old van to a Vietnamese cultural center.

Usually in a big banquet-style room, my family would find a table to sit at and we would order different foods like Bò Kho and Bánh Mì. 

Various acts like singing and fan dance would stretch on for hours. I can still remember the reverberations of the heavy bass in my ears as some random man would blare into the microphone.

The best part, of course, was getting our Lì xì — which are usually red envelopes filled with money — at the end of the festivities. At events like these, we normally wouldn’t get any more than a dollar or two, but I knew I’d get more from my parents at home.

Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year decorations. Melina Nguyen reflects on her past Lunar New Year celebrations and how the holiday was different this year away from family. TAYLOR COESTER/DFP STAFF

Some years, we would go to a temple instead. Although we weren’t Buddhist, the cultural importance of the religion impacts the overall celebration of Vietnamese culture and Lunar New Year.

If we decided to go to a temple one year, I could expect way more talking, more sitting and more food. Although these celebrations were boring most of the time, we were mostly taking photos anyway.

Lunar New Year is typically at the end of January or beginning of February. So because this year was my first year at BU in-person, it meant I had to miss celebrations at home. 

Before coming to BU, my family would celebrate at home and make homemade new year foods like Bánh Tét and Xôi. But this year, I ate Domino’s in my dorm room.

I miss decorating our kumquat tree with Lì xì before the new year. My mom would be lighting incense, my aunt and grandparents would help prepare food and my siblings would always fight over which Áo Dài dress we wanted to wear.

Although it is disheartening to celebrate Lunar New Year alone, I have to become comfortable with the fact that I won’t be able to spend it with my family all the time. 

My biggest fear is that I will forget or not be able to learn all the traditions my parents have worked so hard to preserve when they immigrated to the United States. 

I am not fluent in Vietnamese like my other cousins. I don’t know how to make all the Vietnamese dishes that my mom makes. And I definitely don’t know how to order an Áo Dài or a kumquat tree.

Although I will be in college away from home for the next two years, I need to remember that I can find my culture wherever I go — whether it was through friends, festivals or family.

I can always FaceTime my parents and try to simulate as close to an authentic New Year’s experience as possible.

Some of my non-Vietnamese friends also celebrate Lunar New Year albeit with different traditions. However, the occasion means the same thing for all of us — a new year with our loved ones.

I hope I can shovel out a new meaning for Lunar New Year as I grow up. As much as I miss my childhood memories of the new year, life is always changing, and that includes the way I celebrate my cultural holiday.

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