Christmas in Vietnam: the ESSENTIAL Santa-friendly guide!


So, you’re here for Christmas in Vietnam and want to know how to celebrate? Well, even though Vietnam is largely a Buddhist country, you might be surprised to know that Christmas is a very popular holiday in Vietnam – so stick your Santa hats on and we’ll show you how and where to celebrate!

But wait just a second you lovely lot…although the country does love a slice of Crimbo action, there is no official national holiday on Christmas Day – yep, the kids go to school and the workers go to work. Bummer.

However, the country’s colonial past has left its mark. Vietnamese people see Christmas as a time to have fun and get together, just as they do in many other parts of the world.

The locals also see it as a chance to decorate and brighten up their surroundings, and you’ll find many offices, cafes, restaurants, and bars sparkling with Christmas lights and tinsel!

Christmas in Vietnam Saigon

December: ’tis the season for Christmas vibes in Vietnam

The runup to Christmas is always the best bit, let’s be honest. The music, the food, the good vibes, it’s those last few days before Christmas that always gets my Christmas vibe a-vibing.

In Vietnam, there isn’t quite the same commercial vibe as we’d get back home in the West, but you can definitely enjoy some of the Christian churches and cathedrals throughout the country, built during its French occupation. These cathedrals house traditional creche scenes with the cast of the Nativity as the center point.

St Joseph Cathedral in the capital of Hanoi, and Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City are the focus for some very decent creche scenes. These are built up throughout the month of December, as people bring in additions to the displays, and which surround life-size statues of the infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and various animals.

As December progresses, the run-up to Christmas Eve sees decorations appearing on homes and shops. Many towns will have a particular spot which is a Christmas gathering point – for example, in Ho Chi Minh City, District 1 is known for some great Christmas decorations and lights, and many of the locals flock there (expect heavy traffic through the Christmas period!).

Many shops have Christmas sales in the run-up to the big day, and yep, excitement builds throughout the month, especially amongst children (and expats!).

Where and how to celebrate Christmas in Vietnam

As Christmas is not part of the Buddhist calendar and has no official status in Vietnam, it is there purely to be enjoyed, by both locals (many of whom are very curious as to what the fuss and festivity are all about!) and visitors. Just as a taster, expect to see people walking about in Santa Claus outfits singing carols, just for the heck of it (if you fancy joining them, a full Santa outfit will put you back about $20 USD)!

Restaurants and food

Some restaurants in the big cities put on Christmas menus which are a take on traditional Western themes. As with regular Vietnamese cuisine, this will often take the form of a buffet. Some restaurants will offer a set menu of turkey, stuffing and trimmings, but most offer a selection of meats, including ham and chicken (if you fancy duck, check out Don Duck in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, highly recommended!).

As ever, food in Vietnam can be extremely good value, even at Christmas. Check out the eateries in and around your area to see what kind of Christmas fayre they have. If you insist on the more traditional, keep an eye on the Vietnam Facebook groups for the latest and greatest meals.

Churches and services

Christmas in Vietnam is a great time to see its churches and cathedrals. There are amazing Christian places of worship throughout the country – as well as the two Cathedrals in the biggest cities, there are colonial built cathedrals in many other places.

In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, cars are usually stopped from parking around the city center. As a result, expect the front of the Notre Dame and St Joseph’s cathedrals to be abuzz with happy throngs of adults and children!

Two great options for you that lie beyond Saigon and Hanoi: in the north of the country, near Hanoi, is the 19th century Phat Diem Cathedral in Ninh Binh province. And on the country’s south-central coast is Church of Christ the King, in Nha Trang (one of the last major Christian buildings built in Vietnam by the French).

Vietnamese Christians attend Midnight Mass at churches and cathedrals across the country – just so you know, there are more than half a million Christians in the country, and they celebrate Christmas like Christians around the world.

Christmas in Vietnam

Out and about

If you’re not that bothered about celebrating the Christian aspect of Christmas, there’s still plenty to enjoy over the festive period.

Christmas in Hanoi

If you’re in Hanoi, head to the usual suspects in the Old City, especially Hang Ma Street, which always gets dressed up for the big holidays! Expect big crowds! You could also take in a Christmas meal at one of the local restaurants or hotels, who are likely to have some tasty Christmas buffets available (again, keep an eye on the Facebook groups or our own page for the latest updates)

Another great option in the Hanoi neck of the woods in early December is this great little Christmas market in Tay Ho (it apparently only runs for one day, so get there while you can!).

Christmas in Saigon

As mentioned above, District 1 is your destination if you’re looking for some Christmas lights and festivities. Popular sites within District 1 are the Bitexco Financial Tower, the Takashimaya Saigon Center (love when that place closes and the staff lineup to wish each exiting customer a sayonara), the cute Book Street, the walking promenade at Nguyen Hue Street, and even the legendary Bui Vien Street.

Here’s a great little video showing you some of the Christmas lights in Saigon, especially in the Catholic districts of District 8…

Christmas in Sapa

If some Christmas snow is what you’re after in Vietnam, the likely candidate for that has to be Sapa, in the far north-west of the country. The mercury plummets around December-January in that part of the world, and there is a fairly decent chance of snow. Couple that with the amazing treks and homestays that you can find in Sapa and you could be in for a very cosy and unique Christmas. Check out our guide to Sapa for more details.

Wherever Christmas in Vietnam takes you, you’re in for a great time! Just try to enjoy it as much as the Vietnamese do. All that’s left to say is we wish you and yours a Very Merry Christmas in Vietnam!

Christmas in Vietnam
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