image credit: DinhNhan0505
Valentine’s Day is even bigger and more serious in Vietnam than it is in most Western countries like the USA or Canada.
From “couple’s gifts” to overbooked hotels to the colour red, the Vietnamese way of celebrating Valentine’s Day is slightly different than its Western origins, but is otherwise recognizably similar to Hollywood RomCom portrayals of the holiday.
In this post, we discuss how (and why) the Vietnamese celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Do people celebrate the Valentine’s day in Vietnam?
Valentine’s Day is the most popular Western-derived holiday in Vietnam. It is even bigger and more widely observed than Christmas — which itself has become a big secular event for Millennial-aged urban Vietnamese.
What is surprising is that the February 14th holiday remains so popular, despite the holiday-fatigue around Tet (the Lunar New Year) which is the most important holiday in Vietnam. Due to the ever-changing misalignment between the Gregorian and Lunar calendars, the two holidays can sometimes be very close together, like two weeks or less.
Vietnam-Style – What do people do on Valentine’s Day?
To celebrate St. Valentine’s in Vietnam, young couples and would-be suitors do things like give gifts of flowers and chocolates and go out on dinner-and-a-movie dates. However, the entire holiday is more exaggerated than in the West, including some notable differences to do with:
- over-the-top gifts and “couples gifts”;
- obsession with the colour red;
- night-out activities;
- hotel overbookings;
- no gifts for colleagues;
- more equitable between men and women.
Gifts for Valentine’s Day in Vietnam
The most important gifts for Valentine’s Day in Vietnam are chocolates and red-coloured flowers, especially roses. These are almost a must. Other popular gifts include:
- giant life-sized teddy bears;
- heart-shaped cakes and desserts;
- hand-made cards, especially in the colour red and heart-shaped;
- hand-made anything, like a knitted scarf, or custom painted phone-case;
- anything from Europe, like European-brand watches, hand-bags, or chocolates;
- couple’s experiences like ice-skating or swan-boat rides; and
- “couple gifts”
Of all the above gifts, the only one that is unique to Asia is the “couple’s gift” phenomenon, which likely came from Korea or Taiwan. “Couple’s gifts” are matching clothes & accessories, in order for the young couple to broadcast to the world “we are in love!” This would be corny and somewhat humiliating in the West, but it is very common in Vietnam.
Common couple’s gifts including matching t-shirts, to be worn together at the same time on dates, especially Valentine’s day. However, the matching gifts can also be hats, mobile-phone cases, and even shoes! Sometimes, the couples’ gifts can take many weeks of preparation, such as custom-designed shirts with the couple’s names and date of first meeting.
Hot tip: if you are a Western person who can can’t bring yourself to do matching clothes, try something more subtle like mobile phone cases or jewelry or socks. Be sure to plan well in advance, like two-weeks at least.
Vietnamese Obsession With Red
Valentine’s Day is associated with the colour red — not pink, not white, red and only red.
Red is also associated with good-luck, Tet, and marriages. For Valentine’s Day, it symbolizes passion and love.
The Vietnamese culture has a lot of superstitions about colours. Traditionally, everyone has their own lucky colours and unlucky colours. In this way, the Vietnamese have been primed to be very sensitive to colours on holidays, which helps explain why red, and not pink, is the most important colour for Valentine’s day in Vietnam.
Therefore, if you are giving someone a hand-made card or chocolate, be sure to follow the red-colour theme.
Valentine’s Day Activities in Vietnam
Dinner and a movie and a retreat to a hotel are perhaps the most common Valentine’s Day date in Vietnam. The dinner should preferably be couple-themed, like something you can do together and share — usually there are special menus on Valentine’s Day. The dessert should ideally be heart-shaped and Western (like chocolate cake).
There is also the obligatory public-promenade to show-off your coupleness — like walking around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi or the Star-Bridge in Ho Chi Minh City . You can expect lots of hear-shaped decorations from businesses and maybe displays from the local government.
Hot Tip: if you want to deflect your Valentine’s Day date away from selfie-promenades and awkward chats, try to do an interesting couple-theme experience, like going to an ice-skating rink, or doing couple’s arcade-games at a high-end mall, or renting a bicycle-built-for-two. If not, you might be roped into doing something like paddling around in a goofy swan-boat on West Lake.
Couple’s Activities & Experiences on Valentine’s Day in Vietnam
If you are in Hanoi, here are some couple-themed experiences that are better than dinner-and-a-movie date:
- rent bicycle’s and cycle around West Lake
- swan-boat ride
- couple’s arcade games at a high-end mall
- selfies at the “Little Holland” flower gardens
- rent two-person bikes on Cat Ba island (at least one-night stay)
- oshibana/flower-pressing workshop
- ice-skating at the Royal City Mall
No Cards for Colleagues on Vietnamese Valentine’s Day
Unless you want to send mixed signals to everyone in your office, you shouldn’t send generic Valentine’s Day cards to your office colleagues or schoolmates, as is routinely done in North America as a polite and inclusive gesture. This is not done in Vietnam — Vietnamese Valentine’s Day is just for lovers and would-be lovers.
Hotel Overbookings on Valentine’s Day in Vietnam
It is a common humourous refrain that the #1 destination on Valentine’s Day is a hotel. This is because young Vietnamese couples must live with their parents until they are married — even afterwards, the husband’s parents may move in with the young couple upon having children! Therefore, in order for a young couple to get any intimate time alone with their partner, they will commonly need to book a hotel room.
The hotels are often booked two-weeks in advance in Vietnam, or sonner, with the big push happening after the conclusion of Tet.
For Women, or Men? An Equitable Valentine’s Day
One of the interesting differences between Valentine’s Day in Vietnam versus the West is that it is claimed that the holiday is more equitable between the two sexes — both men and women give gifts and receive presents and the emphasis is about doing things together. This is in contrast to North America, where Valentine’s Day is effectively “Girlfriend Appreciation Day”.
However, all visible evidence suggests that the equitability claim is really just Vietnamese men going along to get along. For example, couples aren’t exchanging gifts like X-Boxes or motorcycle-decals or trips to craft-breweries.
Asking a Girl Out for Valentine’s Day
Vietnamese Valentine’s day is the perfect time for hidden suitors to try their luck and ask their fancy out on a date. If you are going to do so in Vietnam, stick to the Valentine’s Day basics and do the following:
- give her flowers, preferably red roses;
- get her a hand-made card, preferably in the colour red;
- get her gifts of chocolates, preferably heart-shaped, from Europe, and in red-packaging.
- propose something public and fun, like ice-skating, arcade-games in a high-mall, or (gulp) swan-boat paddling.
When Did St. Valentine’s Day Become a Big Deal in Vietnam?
Valentine’s Day started to become a big deal in Vietnam sometime between 2000 and 2006. In the early 2000’s, approximately 50% of young people were aware of the holiday and would recognize Valentine’s Day gestures like card-giving and chocolates. By 2007 to 2010, nearly every couple in urban cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City would engage in Valentine’s Day activities, and advertisements and promotions by private businesses became overt and common.
How did Valentine’s day catch-on in Vietnam? It seems to have been a purely organic phenomenon driven by young people familiar with Western and Korean media. We think that it was organic because, in the early-days, there was not a clear commercial proponent, like a Western brand or company looking for a hallmark-cashcow opportunity to co-brand themselves along with the holiday — in fact, quite the opposite occurred: small Vietnamese restaurants would offer special menus and special cakes, and Western brands seemed to be on the side-lines, ingratiating themselves instead with Asian holidays like Tet (This is something we’ve seen more generally in Vietnam: Western brands are incredibly reluctant to promote Western traditions, whereas local Vietnamese are incredibly curious and fond of things like Christmas.)
Vietnamese Valentine’s gifts seem to mirror the over-the-topness of Hollywood Rom-Com fantasies — this suggests that the holiday arose to prominence in Vietnam via grassroots consumption of Western (and Korean) media, rather than propelled by singular entities. Notably, the adoption of Valentine’s Day in Vietnam happened before the explosion of social media like Facebook and Youtube.
Is there an indigenous holiday like Valentine’s Day in Vietnam?
There is no Vietnamese traditional holiday like Valentine’s Day which celebrates couples or love — which is probably one of the reasons why Valentine’s Day became so popular in Vietnam. The nearest thing could be Vietnamese Women’s Day, in which female friends, colleagues, and family-members are showered with small gifts of appreciation, but the day does not have any romantic significance.
The Language of Love in Vietnam
To learn how to speak romantically in Vietnamese, see our language lessons, including:
- How to say “I love you” in Vietnamese
- How to Flirt in Vietnamese
- How to say “Kiss me!” in Vietnamese
- How to say boyfriend and girlfriend in Vietnamese
Dalat – The Cursed City of Love
You may think that Dalat, the idyllic mountain retreat-town that is famous for flowers, would be an ideal destination for a Valentine’s Day tryst. However, there is a well-known curse in Dalat: first-time couples should not go to Dalat otherwise their relationship will end in disaster. In our estimation, approximately 50% of people believe in this funny superstition.