Having lived in Viet Nam for over 15 years, I can say with absolute certainty that I enjoy Christmas here more than in the US. Even though most Vietnamese are not Christian, it is still a special and even magical time. You see children (and adults!) posing for photos in front of all of the holiday displays that have sprouted up around town, including at Catholic churches and various businesses. Some of my favorite sights are people wearing Santa hats and faux reindeer antlers and men in Santa suits speeding around the city on their motorbikes.
A secular holiday for most, Christmas in Viet Nam is another excuse for a party that doubles as a kick-off to the festive atmosphere leading up to Tết, which falls on Friday, February 12, 2021. Christmas is an enjoyable bookend to the Lunar New Year celebration, the most important and meaningful in Vietnamese culture. It’s become increasingly commercialized over the years but not in the same sense as in the US and other Western countries. In other words, people don’t go into credit card debt buying gifts because gift exchanges are not an integral part of the holiday.
If you’re a Buddhist, nominal or otherwise, this is a time to have fun and celebrate, even if that celebration is something as simple as having a good time with friends and family, or milling around St. Joseph’s Cathedral on Christmas Eve and soaking up the excitement and sense of mystery of the night. If you’re a believer, there is less clutter and more space to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
I have bittersweet memories of the holiday season in the US. As a child, there was the wonder of the season, time off from school, and that glorious week from Christmas to New Year’s Day. How time flew! That was it. What a letdown! The next day it was all over and you were back in school or back to work. In Viet Nam and other countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year, Christmas is the beginning of a festive atmosphere that lasts through the Lunar New Year. (In Vietnam, 1 January is also a holiday.)
In 2021, the Year of the Buffalo, Vietnamese will have seven days off from Wednesday, 10 February to Tuesday, 16 February. Everything begins to slow down in the weeks leading up to Tết and will not begin to return to normal until a week after. Now that’s what I call a celebration! There’s nothing comparable in the West.
This video How Vietnamese are getting into the festive spirit this Christmas will confirm everything I’ve shared and more. Enjoy!
Wishing all of you Happy Holidays, to those who celebrate, Merry Christmas, and to everyone, a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful & Rewarding Solar New Year!
Shalom (שלום), MAA