Jingle bells rock in Viet Nam's capital
|Santa Claus is coming to town:Children gather around Santa Claus in HCM City. — VNA/VNS Photo The Anh
Foreigners are looking forward to celebrating the holidays here -- even if it won't be a white Christmas. Thanh An and Thu Huong get the inside scoop on how Ha Noi expats and locals plan to spend the festive week.
Dasha Nikonova, marketing director for Legenda Tay Ho tourism company, from Kazakhstan
This is my first time celebrating Christmas in Viet Nam. Sometimes, it does not feel like Christmas as there is no snow here, but I like all the decorations and lights on the streets. There are also no annoying promotions and other commercial aspects of Christmas to be seen, as one would find in Western countries.
Since I have not yet seen the celebrations, it is hard to explain why I chose Viet Nam as my holiday destination. But the fact that no one gets the day off here for the holiday is a major change for me, and most people here don't care too much about the holiday -- except for the expats and those who hang out with them. Christmas is not marketed commercially here, and people are not really preparing for it on the same scale as in Western countries.
Next year, I hope to travel around Asia more and run a successful business. I am also planning to graduate by the end of 2014 and hope that I will be successful. Also, I want to discover more about Viet Nam while I am here and learn more about its people, customs and traditions.
On New Year's Eve, I will probably stay in Ha Noi and go to a party, or maybe, I will go out of town for the weekend.
Alex Hartley, founder and managing director of Nha Toi real estate company in Hoi An, from France
This is the fourth time in a row that I am celebrating Christmas in Viet Nam, and it's very different from the way we celebrate it in the West. To begin with, it is not zero degrees Celsius outside like it is in my country, and I don't think we will be expecting snow in Hoi An anytime soon! I have noticed that over the years, more and more people have started celebrating Christmas properly. There are (plastic) Christmas trees being sold now, and people are getting their gifts ready for this special day. The time you spend away from work and with family and friends can only be a good thing.
Obviously, my only regret is not spending Christmas with my whole family. This year it will be me, my wife and my beautiful daughter celebrating on December 25 after a dinner gathering with friends the day before. There won't be any turkey served at the table, but duck will do. I'm sure no one will notice the difference after a few glasses of champagne!
I would say that my favourite memories are of the tremendous effort that some of my friends have made over the past few years in inviting me to their Christmas dinners with their families. So even if I am in another part of the world, I will still remember those special days.
Like most people, I wish for a better year and a better start, good health and happiness for all those I care so much about. There may be some change in path, perhaps. Let's see what 2014 brings!
I think Christmas and New Year's Eve in the West is similar to Lunar New Year for Viet Nam. While Christmas is dedicated to the family and New Year's Eve to friends, the Tet combines celebrations with family and friends.
Akaya Guangu, teacher, from Japan
As it is my first time here for Christmas, I feel really happy to be working as an English teacher. It's like a dream come true for me. I hope next year will bring more challenges and good health for everyone.
I don't think Christmas in Viet Nam is an occasion to write home about, as there is nothing special happening. During this holiday, I will go on a trip with my close friends. I chose Viet Nam because I want to experience Christmas celebrations here.
Nate Youngblood, management consultant, from the US
I have come to Viet Nam for the first time, and it looks like the Vietnamese people embrace Christmas, at least aesthetically, which is nice. There are a couple of good Christmas markets for good food and Christmas shopping.
Next year, I hope to travel a lot and find new projects and professional opportunities. Now that the weather is cold, it feels a lot like Christmas at home. And it helps that the Vietnamese people also like to decorate for the holiday. Christmas decorations are cheap, so it is very easy to decorate the house.
I will go to Christmas parties at my friends' houses throughout the week and will spend Christmas Eve at home with my housemates and close friends. The staples of Christmas for me are lots of food, baked goods, hot wine, and good friends and family. Usually, we sing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve and open presents first thing in the morning on Christmas Day.
It is very expensive to go back home to the United States, and I was just there recently anyway, so I prefer to stay here during Christmas.
Back home, most people spend Christmas with their families, whereas here, most people will probably celebrate with friends, which can be just as good. I have no plans yet for the New Year, but I imagine it will probably be about the same as back home – maybe a bit less fancy.
Nguyen Thi Linh Nga, English teacher at Hanoi-Amsterdam High School for the Gifted
Christmas decorations remain up for the week before December 25 in Viet Nam. Like elsewhere in the world, one can see fabulously decorated Christmas trees and fat and kind-hearted Santa Clauses, and Christmas songs are sung either in English or Vietnamese. There is actually no special celebration. On Christmas Eve, people spend time outside. Gifts or cards are not sent to relatives because it just feels weird and wrong. People tend to block the roads, making it impossible for others to return home. They go out because everyone else does; some don't even know what Christmas is about. Christmas has never been my cup of tea since, at least for me, there is no such thing in Vietnamese custom.
Just over a year ago, I was excited to celebrate my very first Christmas in the United Kingdom. Every day, I saw the lights decorating the streets, danced with the street bands and looked at Christmas sales. Long university breaks for exams and holidays also added to the joy of this event.
Christmas Day eventually came. We had several days off from work, and the coldest winter of my life started. I got stuck several times because of road closures, university buses stopping their service, shops closing down, and flatmates returning home. I was the only one in my flat and tried to keep myself occupied with coursework, but it didn't work. Nothing is worse than being isolated. I started to think this was not the best place for me to be. If I were to stay here for several more weeks, I could end up dying or something. Then, my mom called, and we both started crying. The first tears I shed gave me comfort as they let me know that mom always keeps me in her thoughts.
Spending special occasions in a completely new country can be a nice experience. Coming back home after two years, I've learnt a way to make Christmas more meaningful. Christmas in Viet Nam can be immensely different from celebrations in other countries, but like any other holiday, it allows us to share our joys. This is a time of peace, so wherever you are, just spread affection amongst your near and dear ones. May this year be a magnificent one for everyone.
Vu Thi Hong Nhung, student of Ha Noi Pedagogy University 2
What a pity I could not be home to welcome Christmas this year because of my upcoming exams. I miss my family, my hometown parish, my choir and church. My village must be fervently preparing for Christmas, while I have to study, which makes me pity myself.
At night, after the Bible is read, the church seems to be busier than usual, with middle-aged villagers and children gathering to practice singing and dancing for the Christmas show. The sounds the children make while calling to each other is lovely. My father and brother make twinkling stars and pine-trees from bamboo to hang on our roof, like everyone else in the village. What a view it is when all the stars and pine-trees are lit up at night! The vicar also spends some days 'purifying' each person, because Christmas is welcomed with not only beautiful decorations but also our pure souls.
If I could stay home this Christmas, I would certainly join in the preparations, practice dancing and make small bamboo stars that I would hang around the church. At 11 pm on Christmas Eve, everyone will hold candles in the procession for Christ's statue. Even though it is quite cold, the atmosphere is very solemn and holy.
Tran Van Vien, student of Ha Noi University
Christmas in Ha Noi to me means a sparkling, bustling city and traffic jams!
I have experienced three Christmas seasons in the city. Every Christmas Eve, I get together with my friend, wander through the well-lit streets and then go to the Old Quarter to enjoy lime tea, mint lime ice-cream or beer on Ta Hien Street before we finally reach a friend's house, where we spend the night eating and drinking. Christmas to me is always cosy. As we rarely meet each other and none of us are Catholic, it has become an ideal occasion for us to get together during the freezing cold winter.
But Christmas this year is different as I will participate in the "Christmas on the Street" programme being held by my volunteer's club, which gives gifts to poor labourers, night workers, the homeless and street children throughout Ha Noi. I have visited many poor areas in the city and have seen the plight of those who use pavements, benches and parks as their resting place during the night. They probably have never enjoyed the happiness that our small Christmas gifts can give. The cosy atmosphere of Christmas night, which has become familiar to us, must seem strange to them. By weaving woollen scarves, making food and distributing these on Christmas Eve, I and the other members of the club, want to spread love and affection.
Le Minh Phuong, student of Viet Nam National University of Social Sciences and Humanities
Christmas to me is just a simple occasion to enjoy myself after the hustle and bustle of the year. Of course, to a non-Catholic like me, there are no particular memories of Noel, but this year, it may turn out to be an unforgettable day.
The winter evenings of Ha Noi seem to see a strange solidarity amongst the people. The whole city is like a refrigerator in which we are all freezing. I often stroll along familiar paths and old streets to indulge my memories. Xmas has arrived at every familiar corner: the pine-trees, the flashy lights, pretty gifts wrapped in red and white, and the familiar colours of Santa Claus covering the city with a marvellous coat. It seems that the fairytale has come true.
But my mind is elsewhere, caught up with sadness and consolation, happiness and pain.
The day I went to choose a Christmas gift for the girl I secretly adored was also the day she showed me her wedding photos. Each of the photos gave me a stab of pain, reminding me that she will never belong to me. There will be no more meticulously planned and attentive wishes or gifts hidden in socks that I had imagined giving her, while dressed as Santa Claus this Christmas.
My last gift to her is my whole heart and best wishes for her happiness. Sometimes, in life, it is precious to have love, but daring to let it go may be even more precious. Likewise, spending time with our beloved is the definition of happiness, but seeing them happy also makes us smile, because love means never regretting anything. — VNS