Celebrating Christmas in Vietnam – Customs and Traditions

Holidays & Special Events

By Omar Perez

Christmas is celebrated all around the world, including in Vietnam. However, the way Christmas is observed in Vietnam differs from many Western countries. Vietnamese people, who mainly follow Buddhism and Taoism, have their own customs and traditions when it comes to celebrating Christmas.

In Vietnam, Christmas is not a public holiday, but it is still widely celebrated. The holiday season officially starts in early December when the streets and buildings in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are decoratеd with colorful lights and ornaments. Shopping malls and markets are filled with festive decorations, and Christmas music can be heard everywhere.

While Christmas Day is not a day off from work or school in Vietnam, many people still find ways to celebrate. Some Vietnamese families attend midnight mass at Catholic churches, and others gather with friends to have a special meal and exchange gifts. Vietnamese children also look forward to receiving presents from Santa Claus, who is known as “Ông Già Noel” in Vietnamese.

Overall, Christmas in Vietnam is a time for joy, togetherness, and spreading love and happiness. Despite being a minority religion in Vietnam, Christianity has gained popularity, and Christmas has become an important occasion for Vietnamese Christians to gather and celebrate their faith. Additionally, the festive atmosphere of Christmas is enjoyed by people of all religions and backgrounds as a way to embrace the spirit of giving and goodwill.

History and Background

Christmas is a relatively new holiday in Vietnam, with its origins tracing back to the arrival of Catholic missionaries during the 16th century. Before that, the predominant religions in Vietnam were Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, which did not celebrate Christmas.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit Vietnam, bringing Christianity along with them. However, it wasn’t until the French colonization in the 19th century that Catholicism gained a stronger foothold in the country. French missionaries actively spread the Christian faith, and Christmas became an important religious celebration among the Catholic population.

During the years of French rule, Christmas traditions such as Midnight Mass and the nativity scene became popular in Vietnamese churches. Over time, these traditions were embraced by a wider audience beyond just the Catholic community.

After gaining independence from France in 1954, Vietnam went through a period of political and social changes. The government discouraged religious practices, including the celebration of Christmas. However, with the gradual process of normalization and the reintroduction of religious freedom in the late 1980s, Christmas started to regain its popularity in Vietnamese society.

Today, Christmas is widely celebrated in Vietnam, both as a religious holiday and as a cultural event. It has become a time for families to come together, exchange gifts, and enjoy festive decorations and meals. While the religious significance of Christmas is still important to many, the holiday has also taken on a more commercial and secular aspect in Vietnamese society.

Traditions and Customs

Vietnamese Christmas traditions and customs have been influenced by both Western and Eastern cultures. While Christmas is not a public holiday in Vietnam, it has become an increasingly popular and celebrated event.

One of the most important Christmas traditions in Vietnam is to decorate homes and businesses with lights and Christmas trees. People also often display nativity scenes, either at their homes or at churches. These decorations can be seen throughout the country, creating a festive atmosphere.

On Christmas Eve, many Vietnamese families attend midnight Mass at their local church. The Mass is a significant part of the Christmas celebration and is followed by a festive meal with family and friends. It is a time for people to come together and enjoy each other’s company.

In addition to attending Mass, many Vietnamese people exchange gifts during the Christmas holiday. The giving of gifts is not as common or traditional as in Western countries, but it has become more popular in recent years. It is often seen as a gesture of love and appreciation for family members and close friends.

Although Santa Claus is not a traditional figure in Vietnamese culture, children in Vietnam have come to know him through movies, television, and advertising. Some families may even leave out cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve, similar to Western traditions.

Another important aspect of the Vietnamese Christmas celebration is charity and goodwill towards others. Christmas is often seen as a time to give back to the community and help those less fortunate. Many organizations and individuals participate in charity events and donate to those in need during the holiday season.

Overall, while Christmas in Vietnam may be different compared to Western countries, it is a time of joy, love, and togetherness. The traditions and customs surrounding the holiday have become uniquely Vietnamese, reflecting the country’s rich cultural heritage.

Religious Significance

Vietnam is a predominantly Buddhist country, with a small population of Christians. Christmas is not a public holiday in Vietnam, but it is still celebrated by many Christians across the country. For Christians, Christmas holds significant religious meaning as it commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christian communities in Vietnam celebrate Christmas by attending special church services, singing carols, and engaging in prayers and worship. The religious significance of Christmas is reinforced through the retelling of the Nativity story and the message of hope, peace, and love that Jesus’ birth brings.

While Christmas may not have the same level of commercialization and extravagance as in Western countries, its religious significance remains important to the Christian population in Vietnam. It serves as a time for reflection, gratitude, and celebration of their faith.

Christmas Eve Celebrations

Christmas Eve, also known as Giao Thừa, is one of the most festive and important times for celebrating Christmas in Vietnam. This night is marked by various customs and traditions that bring together family and friends to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

On Christmas Eve, many Vietnamese families attend a midnight mass at their local church to honor the religious significance of the holiday. The atmosphere is filled with joy and excitement as people gather to sing hymns, listen to the sermon, and offer prayers.

After the church service, families return home and enjoy a special Christmas Eve meal together. This meal typically includes traditional Vietnamese dishes such as Pho, Banh Chung, and different types of fruits. It is a time for loved ones to come together and share a delicious feast while exchanging gifts and well wishes.

Another popular tradition on Christmas Eve is decorating the Christmas tree. Vietnamese families often purchase or make their own ornaments and lights to adorn the tree. The tree is usually placed in the living room or a central area of the house, serving as a festive centerpiece for the holiday celebrations.

In addition to these customs, many Vietnamese people also participate in charitable activities on Christmas Eve. They donate gifts, food, and clothing to those in need, embodying the spirit of giving and compassion that is associated with Christmas.

Overall, Christmas Eve is a time of joy, togetherness, and reflection for the Vietnamese people. It is a special occasion when families and communities come together to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the spirit of Christmas.

Christmas Day Festivities

Christmas Day is a major holiday in Vietnam, and it is a time for families to come together and celebrate. The day starts with a special breakfast, and many families attend a morning church service to honor the religious significance of the holiday.

After church, families typically gather at home or go out for a festive meal. Traditional dishes such as roasted turkey, ham, and Christmas pudding are popular choices.

Gift giving is also an important part of Christmas Day celebrations in Vietnam. Families exchange presents and children eagerly open their gifts from Santa Claus.

In the afternoon, many people enjoy participating in outdoor activities such as ice skating, visiting Christmas markets, or going for a stroll to admire the festive decorations in the city.

As the evening approaches, families often gather again for a lavish dinner. Special dishes like braised pork, grilled seafood, and fruitcakes are served. It is a time for joy and togetherness.

The day concludes with fireworks displays and light shows in major cities. Families may also attend Christmas concerts or performances to further immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere.

Overall, Christmas Day in Vietnam is a time of celebration, love, and happiness. It is a day when families come together to enjoy delicious food, exchange gifts, and create lasting memories.

Unique Vietnamese Christmas Traditions

Vietnamese people celebrate Christmas in their own unique way, blending both Western traditions with indigenous customs. Here are some of the most distinct Vietnamese Christmas traditions:

Midnight Mass: One of the most important traditions for Vietnamese Catholics is attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Churches across the country hold special services and masses that begin at midnight. Worshippers gather to listen to carols, pray, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Displaying Nativity Scenes: Many Vietnamese families have a nativity scene, or “manger scene,” in their homes during the Christmas season. These scenes are usually made of clay or ceramic and feature figurines of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the shepherds, and the three wise men. It is common for families to place these nativity scenes on a special table or in a prominent area of their homes.

Exchange of Gifts: Like in many other countries, the Vietnamese also exchange gifts to celebrate Christmas. This tradition often involves giving small presents to friends, family members, and loved ones. The gifts are often simple and heartfelt, such as homemade crafts or symbolic items.

Public Celebrations: Christmas is not an official public holiday in Vietnam, but many cities and towns still have public celebrations. Streets are decorated with lights and festive decorations, and there may be special events and performances organized in public areas. People often gather in parks or city centers to enjoy the festive atmosphere.

Traditional Foods: While the Vietnamese cuisine may differ from Western Christmas dishes, there are still some traditional foods that are often enjoyed during the Christmas season. Grilled pork, fried rice, steamed chicken, and seasonal fruits are some examples of popular Christmas foods in Vietnam.

Charitable Acts: One of the most meaningful Vietnamese Christmas traditions is engaging in charitable acts. Many individuals and organizations take this opportunity to give back to their communities by organizing activities such as charity drives, donations to orphanages or hospitals, and visits to the elderly or those in need. This spirit of giving and compassion is an important part of Vietnamese Christmas celebrations.

These unique Vietnamese Christmas traditions reflect the country’s cultural diversity and its blend of Western and Vietnamese customs. While the core meaning of Christmas remains the same, Vietnamese people have embraced their own ways to celebrate this festive season.

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Omar Perez

Omar Perez, a Caribbean correspondent at TravelAsker, is a skilled writer with a degree from Florida International University. He has published in prestigious outlets like The Miami Herald, Orlando Weekly, Miami Daily Business Review, and various New Times editions. He has also worked as a stringer for The New York Times in Miami, combining his love for travel and storytelling to vividly depict the Caribbean's charm.

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