Christmas in Vietnam

Submitted by tomo on December 26, 2012 - 4:15pm

Christmas in Vietnam is stressful. Just kidding. The downtown streets of Saigon get pretty packed as young people crowd in for the various photo opportunities on Le Loi and Nguyen Hue streets. And the whole area around Diamond Plaza and Notre Dame Cathedral is packed right up until Christmas Eve at midnight. Christmas in Vietnam actually ends right after it becomes December 25th. Christmas in Vietnam means Christmas Eve!

One nice thing about celebrating Christmas in Vietnam is that there's no pressure to do Christmas shopping. Forget Black Friday or Cyber Monday. And forget Boxing Day. Buy a gift for somebody if you want. But only do so because you want to, not because you feel obligated, because you expect they will buy you a gift. Because they probably won't.

Only one in 10 Vietnamese people are Christian, although that makes it one of the more Christian Asian countries. So why do you see Christmas decorations everywhere? Why are there giang Christmas trees downtown and Christmas lights hanging all over stores (to be fair, those lights often stay up year round).

Like Halloween and other Western holidays, Christmas is celebrated more and more as Vietnam is more exposed to Western culture. But it's been celebrated in the country for a long time actually. During South Vietnam's brief existence as a Catholic nation, with a war ongoing, it was celebrated. After the war's conclusion, Vietnam, including former South Vietnam and Saigon were impoverished as a result of poor economic policies. There was not much celebration of any kind. Only until after Doi Moi (return to capitalism) did people have money to celebrate things like Christmas again. Nowadays, at least in the cities, young people party in the streets without much care. Celebrating Christmas means going to Mass for Christians and just going outside with friends for everyone else. There might be some drinking and eating (nhau) to go along but you won't find turkey or other traditional Western Christmas dishes.

So there you have it. Christmas in Vietnam comes and goes. People still go to work on the 25th and there's not much to look forward to on New Years either. The big holiday here is Tet, the Lunar New Year.

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