Expat-style Christmas in Việt Nam


Christmas is here again.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Big C and Metro, along come the mayhem and merriment of Kris Kringle Kapers for kids.

Fortunately for me I’m a single dad of two young puppy dogs so the decorating is not difficult – red: carrots in their meals, green: vegetables and some tinsel around the Doghouse.

Actually the only trouble I’ve had so far is putting up the Christmas lights in the windows because Vietnamese power sockets are located somewhere near the North Pole.

Central Việt Nam gets into the groove as good as – if not better than – the rest of the country.

Plenty of shops selling tinsel and decorative stuff around Hội An and Đà Nẵng, although it does get weird when your Santa costume is made in China, your Christmas tree smells of lemongrass and you’re saying “Giáng Sinh An lành” instead of “Merry Christmas”!

If you’re an expat married to a local, it’s quite a fun mix of Vietnamese frivolity and western bemusement as traditional Vietnamese winter foods such as Beef Hotpot (Lẩu Bò) or Vietnamese Winter Melon Soup (Canh Bí Đao) are served instead of a roast dinner with gravy and mint.

I have a theory that if gravy was more widely known by the locals we’d go a long way to making the Vietnamese taller and fatter.

At Christmas I miss my mum’s roast lamb but there’s plenty of great food out there.

Yet tourism has brought fine western dining with all the Christmas trimmings our way too.

The resorts and hotels do a good trade in massive meals with western customs such as the Christmas pudding cake, custards and Christmas candies ready for eager little mouths.

I smile a lot in the traffic when mums wrap the kids in miniature Santa suits and hang off the back of the motorbike as they trundle off to the markets.

Not sure if it’s the colors or just the general feeling of fun that gets them hooked but it’s irresistibly cute.

It makes you wonder if the kids think Santa is a colorful version of the lucky Buddha!

It’s funny how Christmas turns adults into big kids too.

Expat_in_VietnamAn expat family walks on a street in Hồ Chí Minh City a few days before Christmas

Expats roaring around town with a Santa hat flapping in the cold air or fat old Englishmen men sitting in a bar in a row with the pre-requite hats chatting about sport and visas. It’s not called the ‘silly season’ for nothing.

Christmas parcels however are frustrations as they turn up later…say April… in lovely crumpled wrapping paper and slightly smudged Chrissie cards.

Each year my mum sends something and that’s what I get…something.


I was surprised when I discovered how many Vietnamese Christians there are and the ‘wannabes’ – Vietnamese who like going to church for the songs and the company.

I’m an Atheist even though I believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, Batman, Superman and Iron Man.

In Hoi An, we have a spectacular Christmas display and midnight carols which habitually stop traffic until the wee hours of the morning.

Still I find Vietnamese resort staff singing western carols in fractured English a little bizarre, although rather funny, especially when they try to hit the high notes.

And Vietnamese wearing reindeer horns sets me off in uncontrollable giggles.

More than a few expats head back to their home countries to spend time with their loved ones and for the rest of us, it’s time to catch up with other expats we’ve probably not seen for months as we’re not really a cohesive group and tend to gather only at mating season or when the heat forces us (so we claim) to a drinking hole while warily keeping an eye for predators.

Christmas also reminds us all of the poverty and hardships that locals still have to overcome and spurs expats to host charity events and fundraisers during the winter months.

We are fortunate to have so many considerate and generous entrepreneurs and restaurateurs in central Việt Nam willing to host these events.

Like every expat my thoughts often turn to the life I left behind in my home country and what I have here to be thankful for – good friends, interesting company, cheerful neighbors and in my case, great students! I don’t miss much from my former life as a minion of the system but I’m so lucky to have gotten out of the system when I did.

So this year I’d like to wish each and every one of my readers and fellow expats a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

May 2015 be as fun as you hope for and may you and your families enjoy another hot, sweaty year; just go to the beach then.

And if you can’t keep your new year’s resolutions then you should break them with the endlessly cheerful style of Việt Nam! “Giáng Sinh An lành!” (Merry Christmas!), “Chúc mừng Năm Mới!” (Happy New Year!).


(*) Stivi Cooke is an Australian expat who has lived in Hội An City in Quảng Nam, a province in central Việt Nam, for six years

Source: Tuổi Trẻ News


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