Christmas in Vietnam - Cathedral and decorations

Do Vietnamese Celebrate Christmas?

Photo credit: Kinhtedothi

While only 7 percent of Vietnamese are Christian, Christmas has become a huge celebration in Vietnamese cities. For most young people, Christmas is like a mix of New Years Day and Black Friday — it is an excuse to party, shop, and curiously peak into churches to see what all the fuss is about.

Vietnamese people do not generally understand the religious significance of Christmas, but they at least appreciate the spirit of gift-giving, the festive atmosphere, and fun decorations. There is a growing trend among urban Millennial parents to play-out the Santa fantasy for their kids — some will even hire a Santa character to pass-out gifts to children within a condo or neighbourhood.

More likely, a giant corporation will use Christmas gimmicks to promote sales, like VinGroup (see photo below).

Santas in Vietnam for Christmas
Vietnamese Santas promoting VinGroup at the Royal City mall and condo-complex in Hanoi, Vietnam

Big Events on Christmas in Vietnamese Cities

If you are traveling in a major city like Hanoi during the holidays, here is what you can expect to happen on Christmas in Vietnam:

  • City-run mega-parties with stage performances, music, and dancing — like a New Year’s party.
  • Store-front decorations: a lot of businesses will display amazing Christmas-themed decorations, like Santas and snowmen. Often, there are promotional sales as well.
  • Huge crowds: on Christmas evening, there will be large crowds walking around to observe the decorations, eat, drink and maybe even dance.
  • Public fascination: Vietnamese are increasingly curious about Christian monuments and rituals. Some Vietnamese will visit a church just to peak into a Christmas Mass, or listen to a few carols.
  • Fire-works
Christmas decorations at St Joseph's cathedral in Hanoi, Vietnam
Young couples and young families like to get pictures in front of the Christmas decorations at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi. Photo credit: Kinhtedoth

In rural areas, Christmas will be very subdued and private. There may be extra decorations and events at a local church. However, due to state-bans on proselytizing and missionary work, as well as historic suppression of religion in Vietnam, many Christians in Vietnam do not openly nor aggressively celebrate as they would in Western countries.

What to do on Christmas in Vietnam?

Our personal recommendations for how to celebrate Christmas in Vietnam:

  • Go to the downtown at night-time to dance, drink and party.
  • Look for holiday shopping deals and promotions, especially on Dec 12th and January 1st.
  • Attend Mass (although it will likely be in Vietnamese).
  • If you are of European heritage, expect people to randomly yell “Merry Christmas!” at you. Brighten their day by replying with something quasi-religious, like “Bless you, good sir!” or “Hallelujah!”
  • If you are brave and want to bring smiles to people, consider dressing up as Santa and have candy-canes to hand-out to children. People will want to get selfies with you.

Vietnamese Santa For Kids

An increasing trend for Millennial-age parents is to celebrate the Santa-myth with their children. For example, young parents of a condo-building may hire someone to dress up as Santa and walk around handing out small presents and candy to children. This is done without any religious significance, except that the parents may tell their children “if you’ve been good this year, Santa will bring you a present on Christmas!”

Unlike the West, the children do not believe in the myth of Santa, nor does the day have any familial or emotional weight — Vietnamese New Year (Tet) is still the biggest day for kids.

Christians in Vietnam

Catholics and Protestants make up approximately 7-8% of the population of Vietnam, but their expansion and missionary activities are carefully restricted and regulated by the government. You can read more about the various religions in Vietnam here.

nativity scene at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi
Selfies and nativity scene at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo credit: Naomi Kitahara

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