1/ The Origin of Christmas in Vietnam:
You may know that Christmas is not originally from Vietnam nor an official public holiday here. It was brought to the country by Maria Magdalene Minh-Đức Empress, the wife of Lord Nguyen Hoang and the mother of Prince Nguyen Phuc Khe.
In 1652, at the age of 50, she joined Catholicism in Thuan Hoa by the priest Francisco di Pina. Later, she was baptized with the name of Saint Maria Magdalene under the witness of the Priest Dac Lo. After being condemned, the Empress used her reputation to support Catholicism during political crisis. Besides, she built a small church right next to her son’s mansion in Kim Long land, which is the suburban area of today’s Hue.
The church since then was an open place for Christians all over province, from prayers to preachers. This is also the church where one exceptional incident took place in 1643.
With the strong wave of authorities against Catholicism, the Priest Dac Lo – the only priest in the church – was expelled. Not giving up, preacher Ynhaxo and Minh-Đức Empress still decided to hold all Christmas rituals. The “Midnight Mass” liturgy couldn’t have been carried out if Maria Magdalene Minh-Đức Empress had not presided over it. The very first Christmas in Vietnam history took place successfully in spite of hardships.
2/ The Celebration of Christmas In Vietnam:
Now, back to present time, Christmas has become more and more popular in Vietnam, among not only Christians but also Vietnamese from all religions. Unlike Western countries, Christmas Eve (24th December) is considered more important than actual Christmas Day (25th December).
From the beginning of December or even earlier, almost all shopping malls start to decorate their stores with snowflakes, cheering banners or electric Santa popping out of the chimney. The festive vibe is also shown in fairy lights and Christmas songs blazing all over the streets.
On Christmas Eve, instead of staying home and spending time with family, local Vietnamese tend to go downtown for Christmas celebration. Families usually dine out at nice restaurants while young people prefer going out with their friends, walking around the streets and taking a lot of photos.
Although Vietnamese usually don’t eat turkey on Christmas Eve, it is still common to give a ‘Bûche de Noël’ (a chocolate cake in the shape of a log) to your loved ones. Christmas cards and wishes, rather than actual gifts, are also often exchanged among friends.
3/ Where To Celebrate Christmas in Vietnam:
Located in both tropical and temperate zone, winter in Vietnam is sure not as cold as in Western countries. However, it is advisable to bring along a light jacket when going out on Christmas Eve. Besides, since many people coming downtown for this festival, having ‘skin-to-skin’ contact with strange people should be taken into consideration. Keep an eye on your own belongings and don’t lose sight of your companions!
Recommended Places for the Christmas spirit in Vietnam:
In Ha Noi
– St. Joseph Catheral, Hanoi
– Old Quarters (especially on Hang Ma Street)
– Turtle Lake Hanoi
– Hanoi Pedestrian Streets (Hang Buom Street, Ta Hien Street, Dao Duy Tu Street)
– Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street
– Reunification Palace, the Central Post Office and Diamond Plaza on Le Duan Street
– Shopping malls in district 1
– Catholic town in district 8 (along Pham The Hien Street)
Author: Mỹ Anh Lê