Although Christmas is not a national public holiday in Vietnam, the nation still gets into the holiday spirit for this special time of the year. The weather isn’t cold around Christmastime in Vietnam, but Santa, also known as “Christmas Old Man”, still dons his iconic red robes, and many Vietnamese follow suit; expect to find plenty of Santas in malls, restaurants, and streets across the country.
Christmas Trees are more commonly found adorning streets and stores than the inside of homes, with malls having the bigger, more ornate ones. Tinsel, garland, fairy lights, fake snow, and other traditional Christmas decorations are also plentiful during the Christmas season. In churches and Catholic homes, you’re more likely to find a nativity scene, called “crèche”, depicting Mary, Joseph, the Three Magi, shepherds, and a variety of cattle all crowded around the manger which holds the baby Jesus.
On Christmas Eve Vietnamese Catholics, which compose roughly 10% of the population, attend midnight masses and church services, which often include Nativity plays reenacting the night of Jesus’ birth, and plenty of Christmas hymns and carols. The Phat Diem Cathedral in the Ninh Binh Province is considered the “spiritual home” of the nation’s Catholics, and the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City is an especially popular destination for Christmas.
Following these services, a delicious Christmas Eve feast, called “Réveillon”, awaits. Those who can afford it have the traditional roasted turkey, accompanied by a “Bûche de Noël,” a chocolate cake in the shape of a log, for dessert. This cake is a popular gift in the gift giving tradition of Vietnam, along with other foods and dishes. Other types of presents are not very common.
The city center in Ho Chi Minh City is another popular destination on Christmas Eve. Many people come to celebrate, hang out with friends and family, gaze at all the festive lights and decorations, dine out at restaurants, and have a nice night out on the town. The foot traffic can become quite crowded, as cars aren’t allowed overnight.