Several expats living in Vietnam have shared their stories about Christmas celebrations with Tuoi Tre News as the holiday nears.
Kim Cheng, from San Diego, California, USA
My husband and I have been living in Vietnam for over six years, and I've celebrated four memorable Christmases and New Year's holidays in Ho Chi Minh City.
I remember my first Christmas in Vietnam. It was December 24, 2008 and Vietnam had just won the AFF Championship. Most of Le Duan Street and the area surrounding the Notre Dame Cathedral had thousands of motorbikes with fans cheering and waving Vietnamese flags. Then, just before midnight, there was a wave of silence. It was really cool to see a mass of people become so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.
The weather in the city during December is similar to the weather in my hometown most of the year. This year, a small group of friends and I will have Christmas Eve dinner at Saffron restaurant. We're also doing a fun Secret Santa gift exchange. We have a big Christmas tree at our house that we decorated with lights, silver beads and lots of blue and white ornaments.
There was also a huge Christmas show at the elementary school where I teach. The students and teachers sang Christmas songs and performed dances. Santa visited the children and gave lots of presents. We had a really great time!
Lauren Andrews, from New Jersey, USA
I have lived in Ho Chi Minh City for almost four years and have celebrated three Christmases and New Years in Vietnam. I find the decorations have increased more and more over the years. More offices are giving their staff the day off. The city becomes very pretty this time of year, but I don't think I'll ever get used to being hot on Christmas. I'm from New Jersey where this time of year is quite cold and sometimes snowy. Based on music, preparation, and shopping, I would say everything is the same. I'm not sure the idea behind Christmas is always understood, but the spirit is there.
Most ideally, Christmas is spent with people you love. It doesn't matter where in the world you celebrate or even if you exchange gifts, so long as you're laughing, happy and well fed.
Ruth B, from the UK
I've lived in Saigon for five years but this is my first year in the city for Christmas.
I like the weather at this time of year because it's cooler, the decorations in District 1 are lovely (though not as good as Tet of course) and the malls also make an effort.
I don't think the Vietnamese people are excited about the holiday exactly, many of them are not off work like the foreigners and they don't usually know the meaning of Christmas in Western culture, only that it's important to us. I think Vietnamese people enjoy the decorations and like to join in with the atmosphere so they help make it feel more special for us too.
In my home country, it is traditional to stay home with family and celebrate Christmas together. This year we have some of my friends' families coming to visit so I will join the families and celebrate with them here in Saigon for Christmas.
To me, the best way to enjoy Christmas is wherever you are, and whatever you do. But it's best to be with family. This year as I am far from my family, so I am grateful to be with my friends and their families. Perhaps around the streets, Vietnamese people will also gather at the lights to take photos. It is too cold in my home country to celebrate in the streets, so I like this part of Christmas in Vietnam!
Catherine Goodwin, from the UK
I’ve been here for three years and this will be my third Christmas and New Year in Vietnam. It never really feels like Christmas for me because it’s not cold, no snow. Vietnamese people don’t take it as seriously as the UK does, and it’s not a big celebration.
I’m going out with a few friends on Christmas Eve and having lunch the next day with other friends. I have a few Czech friends so one Christmas they cooked me traditional Czech Christmas dinner. That was cool because it was so different to what we have in the UK.
Jisook Han, from South Korea
I have lived in Vietnam with my husband for nearly two years. In Korea, I celebrate Christmas in freezing cold winter, but here in Vietnam, Christmas in summer also has so much fun.
It was so impressive and interesting that Vietnamese people celebrate Christmas more colorfully and joyfully than Koreans, even with the majority of Vietnamese people believing in Buddhism. The street light displays and decorations are so creative and beautiful that I would like to walk along the street following all the lights. Last year, the highlighted street was in front of the Opera House and Reunification Place, but this year is a bit disappointing that this place was shut down because of construction.
It is similar that mainly young people are strolling around the street to celebrate Christmas, but also different that Koreans enjoy more calm down Christmas mood and it is mostly Christians that celebrate this holiday.
In Korea, we have charity events for the poor people in the street during Christmas season, but I do not think I have ever observed that the individuals donate their gifts or money for the poor in the street. I hope that Vietnam also has some event to share with the poor and less fortunate.
Lauren Beckerle, from St. Louis, Missouri, USA
I've lived and worked in Vietnam for more than 2.5 years and this will be my third Christmas and New Year in Vietnam. I like celebrating the holidays here. The lights are cheery, however, some of the decorations remind me of Christmas in the Midwest in the late '80s.
Vietnamese people don't celebrate Christmas with as much fervor as Westerners, but that doesn't bother me. In a way, that's good because expats avoid being bombarded with hardcore holiday marketing strategies. There are also events at hotels that are pretty posh and affordable.
I like to celebrate the holidays with friends, good food, and great drinks. No need for presents since expats are accustomed to moving (we don't like to accumulate a lot of stuff).Ross Stewart, from Australia
I’ve lived in Vietnam with my friends for 11 years and spent around three or four Christmases and New Years here.
Every year (apart from this year which is very depressing and not much in terms of decorations) has been getting more and more decorations and people out on the streets enjoying the Xmas cheer and taking photos at the displays. It’s really quite nice to see all the little kids dressed up as Santas and seeing houses putting colored lights on their fronts.
Xmas is deeply ingrained into our culture in Australia, we normally celebrate Xmas on Xmas Day (the 25th) whereas in Vietnam they focus on the night of the 24th more. Obviously there are no holidays for any of these days and it’s business as usual in Vietnam.
This year, I’m going back to Australia to see my family for Xmas. We usually have a lunch or dinner which includes roast meat (usually roast pork) and lots of vegetables and other treats. We also have a steamed Xmas pudding which we eat with custard, fresh or ice cream. After Xmas, I’ll probably go around and see friends.
Santa Claus comes to Saigon flea markets