HANOI AT CHRISTMAS TIME – CHÚC MỪNG GIÁNG SINH (HAPPY CHRISTMAS)
Western visitors to Hanoi in December are often amazed at how much the Vietnamese have adopted Western Christmas traditions. Festivities and the decorations often rival anything they see at home. At the end of December Hanoi dons its Christmas guise as its streets come alive with spirit and symbols of this time of year.
Christmas is a festival traditionally not part of Vietnamese society. The concept of celebrating this time of year was originated by hotels wishing to make Western visitors feel more “at home” in Vietnam. However, now it is a firm fixture in the annual calendar, followed enthusiastically by the Vietnamese. Virtually every commercial building is heavily decorated and seasonal songs blare out from sound systems.
Father Christmas (affectionately known as ‘Ông già Noel in Vietnamese – ‘old man Christmas’) is a common sight. Complete with red suit and white beard, a sack of presents and his elves, he dashes across shop fronts in his sleigh. Snowmen, with smiling faces, together with penguins, stand ankle deep in fake cotton wool snow. Brightly decorated Christmas trees abound both inside and outside hotels, restaurants, shops and shopping centers, ablaze with lights.
There is even a street – Hang Ma – which is dedicated to the selling of Christmas items. Here almost every conceivable type of decoration is available and the shops make a glittering spectacle with every shade of tinsel and sparkling baubles on display outside.
Although not a Catholic country, many Vietnamese do practice Catholicism. Hanoi is home to a number of Catholic Churches, three of the most iconic being St Joseph’s Cathedral in the center by Hoan Kiem Lake, Cua Bac (North Gate) Church along Phan Dinh Phuong and Ham Long Church south of Hoan Kiem Lake. These resemble a typical western Catholic church. Featuring nativity scenes, candles and Christmas lights, they are packed to the hilt on Christmas Eve with worshippers spilling onto the steps, celebrating midnight mass.
Hanoi is a wonderful destination at any time of year but Christmas gives it some extra special magic. Now it is impossible to imagine Vietnam, and Hanoi, without Christmas.