The Hanoi Times – Although Christmas does not have historical roots in Viet Nam, people across the country are filled with the holiday spirit.
No need to wait until December 25, one can easily sense Christmas coming to many big cities in of The whole country is singing Christmas carols together.
The streets and buildings in Ha Noi have been lavishly decorated with Christmas trees, reindeer, presents, and so on. Windows are framed with multi-coloured lights, and Christmas songs float through hallway speakers. Gift-shopping and present-wrapping have been in full swing.
Walking alongHang Ma Street
, Nguyen Hoang Yen browses through colourful ribbons and decorative balls to pick out several favourites. After finally taking a package of tiny bells and golden balls, Yen also picks up wrapping paper imprinted with Santas and the unmistakable phrase “Merry Christmas”.
Although Yen’s family is not Christian, she says a Christmas celebration has been their custom for several years.
“My children simply assume Santa Claus to be a Western Buddha and they can wish not only for luck, but also for various gifts,” she says.
“After nearly a year forgetting ourselves in work and study, the Christmas holiday is a special occasion to forget worries, share joy with and show love for others.”
Hanoian Ngo Truong Sinh, who recently married a Christian woman, says he often went to the Christmas Eve mass even before he met his wife.
Sinh and his friends often visited churches in Ha Noi on Christmas Eve merely to join in with the atmosphere of the crowd, take a couple of pictures and have fun together.
After twice accompanying his wife to observe rituals in the Cua Bac Church, he said he felt a deeper respect for Christmas and its meaning.
“My feelings are now quite different,” he said. “Despite my lack of religious obligation, I feel more excited about Christmas than ever before and consider the holiday part of my life.”
Christmas seems to have become a special occasion for the whole community, which can be obviously seen by what is going on in Hue these days.
Despite more than 600 pagodas that exist in the former royal city of Hue, the religious holiday of Christmas has been embraced by nearly everyone in the area: Buddhists, Christians and even non-believers.
“Christmas has become an international holiday and cultural event,” explains Bishop Anthony Duong Quynh of the city’s Phu Cam diocese, which has 5,560 Christian parishioners.
“Guests who come to visit our cathedral during Christmas include Buddhist monks. We respect each other’s religion. Christmas is not just for Christians,” he adds.
Hue’s Phu Cam Cathedral, one of its biggest churches and well-known for its architectural features, was built in 1960 on a hill where an orange plantation once stood. on Christmas Eve, people walk en masse on the streets to the church square and later attend mass.
“I was extremely happy to see thousands of people gathered around the cathedral waiting for the Christmas Eve service last year,” Bishop Quynh says. “I love the peaceful atmosphere of the crowds.”
“The strongest feeling I had was peace.”
Besides the religious significance of the event for Christians worldwide, the folk beliefs about Santa Claus have also penetrated the consciousness of children, who are encouraged to do well at school and behave properly for the entire year.
If not, Santa Claus, or Father Christmas as he is also known, will not leave gifts as he slides down the chimney and into the house, as the story goes.
Tran Phan Thanh Thao, 7, a student at Nguyen Chi Dieu school says she would love to have Father Christmas bring her a present when she wakes up in the morning. “I’ve tried my best in study and treated my friends, parents and teachers very well.”
Cao Thi Thu, who operates a Father Christmas gift delivery service, says her customers’ children think they deserve presents from Father Christmas because they have been good all year and have had good study results.
Thu says that she has seen an increase in the number of gift orders. Surprisingly, most of the users were non-Catholics.
In addition to Father Christmas deliveries, the holiday attracts trade in other activities, including the sale of Christmas trees and decorations.
When Phu Xuan Bookstore opened six years ago, few people bought Christmas items, but in the last three years a dramatic increase in sales volume has occurred.
“Year after year, our customers demand higher quality goods,” Sy says. “Buyers, for example, no longer choose short trees but demand plastic pines with a height of 2.5m and more, though the cost is three times as much.”
Staying up late
A former seat of the Nguyen dynasty, Hue is typically a traditional city and its people are usually cautious about anything new. But the “Christmas culture”, as some call it, seems to have found a special spot in the residents’ souls.
Bui Thi Hong Phuong, 20, an accounting student at PhuXuanUniversity in Hue, and a Buddhist, recalls attending a performance about the birth of Jesus at the Redemptorist Cathedral last year.
“May I join the Christmas chorus for once?” she remembers asking her friends.
While Phuong is particularly fond of the holiday’s brightly decorated trees, she admits that the religious aspect associated with the day is not especially significant to her.
Her mother Nguyen Thi Thuan says she is willing to allow her daughter to return home after midnight on Christmas Eve.
“It’s because I want her to experience this international event,” says Thuan, 46, a bank clerk with Bank for Investment and Development Viet Nam in Hue.
Although Hue is widely known as an early-to-bed place, Christmas Eve, like New Year’s Eve and Tet (Lunar New Year), is a late-night affair for many who attend midnight mass or participate in the revelry on the streets or at restaurants.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Thao, 23, who lives in Nam Vi Da Development Zone, says her strict parents agreed immediately when her Catholic friend, Phan Phuoc Kim Diep, asked her to join Christmas activities.
Diep, who is a parishioner in the Redemptorist diocese, holds a party every year for her non-Catholic friends. “My wish is that my friends can know what Noel is and enjoy the atmosphere of the Christmas night,” she says.
Tran Phan Thanh Thao says she and three friends planned their Christmas celebrations more than a month ago. on Christmas Eve, they will take a tour around the Redemptorist Cathedral and then give each other presents.
The spirit of giving
Charity and kindness at Christmas time is another virtue that has seemed to reach Viet Nam.
Thousands of homeless and unlucky children dealing every day with hunger, disease and even death are unable to enjoy many things, including Christmas, and many individuals, charitable organisations and voluntary clubs are willing to help them enjoy the season.
Volunteer For Peace Viet Nam (VPV) held their second “Christmas on a sick-bed” programme on Saturday December 19 at the Central Children’s Hospital.
The 10 Vietnamese and five foreign volunteers visited the young patients at the Faculty of Haematology and gave them presents, wearing full Santa Claus costumes and carrying several games to play. They also repainted the cartoon murals along the corridor walls and great hall. The volunteers said the children were delighted.
VPV Club Secretary and leader of the activity Vu Kieu Lien said her team were even more delighted than the children had been. “By bringing a merry Christmas to them, we not only brought happiness to their eyes but also brought more meaning into our own holiday season,” she says. “I myself feel more responsibility for the people around me.”
Even other, less fortunate citizens share in the spirit of giving. Many members of the Nghi Luc Song (Will to Live) club for handicapped people, happily departed on Saturday December 19 on a two-day trip to Ba Trach Theatre, ThaiBinhProvince.
Club founder Nguyen Cong Hung said 500 handicapped members and volunteers were welcomed to the event, which is sponsored by Don Bosco Viet Nam with the purpose of delivering a message of love and peace to everyone.
The club also delivered a merry Christmas last year when 80 volunteers, including 10 club members, students and other young people, presented gifts to poor people and children at some locations around Ha Noi, including the Charitable Centre of Vocational Training in Dong Da District and poor areas in Gia Lam District and Long Bien Market.
In Hue, among the Christmas activities Bishop Quynh’s church board sponsors are gift-giving events for children and the old, and the offering of food for the poor.
The church and its members also pay visits to orphans and organise Catholic arts performances for the public.
Known in Viet Nam as Noel after the French introduced it and Catholicism to the country years ago, the holiday has various meanings for many people. But all agree that the bells ringing at midnight on Christmas Eve signal the universal desire for peace.
Silent night in HCM City
The strains of Silent Night threw its rapture over the 40,000 faithful gathered in Go Vap District last Friday.
Composed by Hung Lan, the Vietnamese version of the famous carol was performed by the Jacksons – an American family of musician evangelists.
An evening of sacred music ushered in the Christmas season early in HCMCity, highlighting the message of love propagated by Christ. The event also marked the 1,000th anniversary of Protestantism in Viet Nam.
The Jacksons’ performance was followed by the melodious outpourings from Khanh Tuong’s bamboo flute.
The music feast perked up with the performance of singer Tuyet Mai who sang Huong Thom Thien Cung (The Fragance of Celestial Palace).
“There are not many major programmes for Christians living in the city,” said Nguyen Thanh Tam of District 3. “I hope people who missed the first sacred music gala at Tao Dan Park two years ago made it to this one.”
With all our hearts
The Voi Tron Tam Long (With All Our Hearts) event, themed Nguon Tinh Yeu (Source of Love) attracted around 40,000 people from all parts of the city and neighbouring provinces like Dong Nai, Binh Duong and Long An to the K26 stage on Phan Van Tri Street.
Pastor Ho Tan Khoa, head of the event’s organising committee, said: “With all our hearts – Source of Love is a meaningful programme for this year Christmas. I believe that through this programme, Protestant believers would express the enormous love of God, and showcase the practical contributions of the Protestant community to the society.”
He said not just Protestants, every one present can feel the love of God at the event.
Khoa presented VND60 million (US$3,200) to the Que Huong Humanitarian Centre for Handicapped Children and the Go Vap Children Support Centre.
The mellifluous and profoundly sacred carols also celebrated the 1,000th anniversary of Protestantism in Viet Nam.The audience was visibly moved by the rendition of Sinh Ra De Duoc Yeu (Born to be loved) by TV Singing Star 2006 Phuong Trinh. The song also prompted reflection on the true significance of life.
The evening of sacred music reached its crescendo with chorus of around 1,000 singers from many Protestant churches in HCMCity singing eight songs of worship, evoking ecstatic, prayerful chants from the thousands of believers gathered at the ground.
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