Opinion
So this is Christmas...
  • | dtinews.vn | December 26, 2009 01:00 PM

Ho, ho, ho, jingle bells, cookies, milk, shopping, sharing, family, friends, ornaments, decorations, Santa, gifts and giving; whatever Christmas might mean to you, it has arrived here in Vietnam. Merry Hanoian Christmas and a Happy New Year! This will be my first Christmas in Vietnam and as a guy who only got here on the 20th of December, I'd like to find out what Christmas is all about in Hanoi.

I was actually quite surprised to find so many Christmas lights and decorations out and about when I got here. Heck, I've even seen people carrying Christmas trees on the back of motorbikes as they dart around town. I've seen wreaths, snowflakes painted on windows, lights, signs, and if I didn't know any better, I'd say it is Christmas in Hanoi! I've spent my last two Christmas's near the equator where the heat makes it hard to feel the cheer, but the weather is right here in Hanoi, nice and cold. Christmas Eve might have been surprisingly warm, but it was still cooler than anything I have felt in the past couple of Christmas's.

So what does Christmas mean in Hanoi? Well, I wanted to find out, so I set out on a mission with my local friend, Anh, to find out more.

I haven't been home for Christmas in 3 years, so this time of year is always one of mixed emotions but no matter who you are, what your beliefs are, where you are from, or where you wish you could be, as the year comes to a close, it is time for reflection and understanding.

Being a new member of the Hanoi community, I had no idea what to expect on this day.

I'm not one to bring down the spirits or joy of other's, but Christmas hasn't really had a particular meaning for me for quite some time. You see, at this time of year, I often see commercialism at its finest while I'm left to think about Christmas when I was growing up, in a far-away place, usually with snow and family. It has a slightly lonely feel for me, and I'm sure for many ex-pats, after a certain number of Christmas's away from home. Nonetheless, I was determined to see what it meant for Hanoi.

After dipping and dodging through the increasingly thick traffic on the way towards the Old Quarter by foot, I arrived somewhere near the Cathedral. I had an excellent meal before setting out to see the mayhem that was forming around the area. I could tell that Christmas meant something different in Vietnam. It felt like Mardis Gras without the beads. It was absolutely packed with people and sexy "Santa Clausette's" in the back of a VW Beatle, not to mention the Heineken "Clausettes" nearby on foot. The traffic was the most cluttered mess of fumes and happiness I'd ever seen! I couldn't help but smile. It was strange seeing all the decorations, the Santa hats, the people celebrating a holiday that by my estimates, would have meant very little in a city in northern Vietnam. I have seen Christmas in Asia, and it is usually just a commercialised event aimed at getting people to go shopping. I understand, it is like this all over the world, but back home, it does have a genuine familial element that has never disappeared.

To my surprise, and that of many foreigners and locals alike, people seemed to really be enjoying Christmas in Hanoi. It was festive. It was happy. Christmas Eve was a Thursday night, Christmas Day (Friday) wasn't a holiday, yet the town centre was bombarded by spectators, celebrators, and the plain-out curious, ready for a late-night out. This is NOT Christmas back home. On Christmas Eve, the only people out are going to church and everything is closed. On Christmas day, the roads are so empty you could set up chairs on a freeway and you'd only see a few cars passing. It's a time of family and friends, eating, and more eating. It is a quiet day, a day for reflection, and I suppose this is why I wasn't exactly excited about spending another Christmas away from home, in a new city. I must admit, although it wasn't exactly sitting at home with my family, I couldn't help but feel slightly festive and purely happy on Christmas in Hanoi. To add to my delight, I will be spending my Christmas at the Miss IS contest, and I couldn't ask Santa for much more than that!

* Write to David Cornish at davidcornish@dtinews.com

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