By Trung Hieu
Last Christmas, Nguyen Minh Hao delivered presents dressed as Santa. The money he earned allowed him to buy a ticket home so he could be with his family for Tet.
But this year, the economic crisis forced the third-year student at Ha Noi National University to look elsewhere for employment.
"I called my former workplace as well as some new places to ask for a job, but they answered that they would only call us if they got an order. This year, students have few opportunities to do this extra job," Hao said.
Christmas season traditionally is an occasion for people in many Western countries, regardless of economic situation, gather for family union. It is also a peak time for shops and shopping centres staying open as late as midnight to welcome customers.
Christmas has gradually become a festive night for Viet Nam's young people to enjoy good times with friends, while urban parents have adopted a habit to present their children with gifts.
Of late, more and more parents in urban centres hired student "Santas" to bring gifts to their children on Xmas Eve. However, as the economic crisis worsens, many can no longer afford the VND10.000 – 30.000 per km delivery service.
"Because of economic difficulties, my wife and I had to cut out unimportant expenses," said Ha Noi father Do Quang Tien, who stopped asking for the service this year.
Rather than paying for a Santa Claus, many families are organising a big feast at which one of the fathers dons the red suit.
"At this time a few years ago, we got a lot of contracts for home and office decoration, each contract worth at least VND20 million. But this year, although we reduced the price, we only got small contracts that are not financially enough to hire workers and deliverymen," said the owner of one decoration shop.
With less than 10 days left until Christmas, many stores in Ha Noi and HCM City are offering discounts of 10-20 per cent, but these have had little effect.
Nguyen Thi Hanh, a shopkeeper selling Christmas decorations on Hang Ma Street, said that at this time last year there were many orders in large quantities, but this year her sales have been much smaller.
"Normally, customers often buy these things early to avoid price increases on peak days. But till now purchasing power remains slow," she said.
In HCM City, customers are choosing simpler and cheaper products, said Nguyen Van Thanh, owner of a shop for Christmas decorations in Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1, who has seen sales decrease by 60 per cent compared to last year.
The effects can be seen at commercial centres, restaurants and hotels, where plain wreaths and bells have replaced the ornate decorations of previous years. Some shops simply stick a few stylised snowflakes or pine fruits on their front doors.
As a result, students who depended on their Santa Claus jobs are facing the bleak prospect of unemployment.
"This year we are not likely to go home," Hao said. — VNS