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Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2018, 15:53 GMT+7
Merry Christmas, everyone!
People shop for Christmas decorations in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Do you have a thing for colored balls? Hanging old white men on tree branches? Or slipping into something red for the festive mood? Then you’re just the kind of people Santa wants!

Christmas in Vietnam is just plain weird sometimes. Trying to celebrate Christmas during the cold, wet, gloomy Vietnamese winter doesn’t cut it with me. I can’t help sniggering at all the damp, soggy Chrissy decorations the resorts put up outside their main gates waiting to greet the tourists. Although they are Chinese, they won’t even notice – they just think about food…and more food.

In little Hoi An, where I live on the central coast (now officially a city!), the pickings are not that great for Christmas decoration stuff. The closest thing we have to the mighty Mega Mart or Big C is a jam-packed stationery shop that’s sells kids’ toys, ghastly X-mas wrapping paper and cheap guitars hung so low that a foreigner (being taller) is almost unconscious before finding what they want. That’s when you do the snigger up to Da Nang and real shops! 

For me, real shops are the ones that carry pretty much everything you need. None of this nonsense of “Sorry, no have!” and hours prowling around town for the other things you need. Still, even in the West it’s hard to find a shop that sells socks and shoes!

It’s fascinating to me how excited the locals get when buying Christmas goodies – it’s not their tradition nor really their culture yet all the bright lights and trinkets seem to set them off like firecrackers. I remember being knocked over in Big C in Da Nang a few years back as a local family behind me shoved me to the ground on their way to the check counter – in revenge, I grabbed the shopping basket and threw everything behind them, sending them to the back of the queue. The little old dude in front of me gave me the thumbs up.

Maybe it’s for their kids (the lucky ones whose parents actually earn enough for this…) or perhaps another great excuse for a party. Personally I think they worked up about Christmas because it looks grander and larger than local events. And selfies…gotta have selfies! Just watch them crowd around a big Christmas tree anywhere and pose like crazy. However I’m not sure that a family of six trampling over the grass to stand directly under the tree for piccies is quite the Christmas spirit.

For Christmas, I do like to splurge on a big fancy dinner with all the trimmings including traditional English Christmas pudding. Who cares about a diet at Christmas? And if you’re an expat or foreigner on holiday, the idea is ‘pig out’ – not diet or jog along deadly roads in the rain. I do believe in the idea that when you die, you should look like you had a good time – what’s the point of looking slim when you’re dead? I don’t think there’s a weight limit in heaven…

One really nice point about Christmas as an expat in a foreign country is not having to deal with relatives you don’t like, boring office parties and meeting weird people at social events. Your time and space are mostly your own, you can choose to do what you like unless you are married to a local and they insist on the full Christmas thing. Thankfully you are not really required to buy goodies for everyone and the language barrier will keep horrible people at bay. If that doesn’t work, make it look like you have a twitch in your eye and focus on something just above their head.

Fortunately, Christmas doesn’t make me homesick, lonely or stressed out. Besides I know I’ve been a good boy this year so Santa is definitely working on that adults-only present I want this year. (wink)

However as expats we usually live our own lives with not so much contact with other expats – for some like me that’s because I like having lots of quiet time to write, draw and think about things. For others there is a bit of rejection of Western friends, but it shouldn’t be like that all the time. If you’re genuinely feeling a bit down at Christmas, don’t be shy and reach out for some company. Even if you’re vegetarian!

Personally I like eating the chocolate reindeers (I’m a meat lover), munching on cookies and watching old Christmas movies. As for the rest of you? Go eat cake…

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Stivi Cooke / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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