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Tis the season…

Despite this being my second long-term-visit to Vietnam,  “Christmas” in Vietnam remains an intriguing construct to me. 

There's little doubt that Buddhism (most say it's a religion, some say it's a philosophy, some say it's both) and Confucianism (most say it's a philosophy, some say it's a religion, some say it's both) have a strong country-wide presence here. You can see all sorts of indicators everywhere you look - from architecture to the dashboards of Grab drivers, and you hear it in conversations, which often reference some aspect of one, the other, or both. 

small figurine of a dancing Buddah on the right and a giant lotus flower seed on the left

To my limited knowledge, Buddhists  “celebrate” the construct of “Christmas” and typically on December 8th they celebrate Bodhi Day by decorating a Bodhi tree (a type of fig tree) and some western Buddhists may decorate a pine tree. I think it is relatively safe to say that most western “Christian religions” (loosely defined) celebrate “Christmas” on December 25th and decorate some species of pine tree (e.g., spruce, ponderosa, etc.).

So, if you're going to examine “Christmas” in Vietnam, you should consider visiting one of the many available webpages that have statistics on religious practices across the country. 

One such webpage, keeping in mind that the reported numbers, which include government figures, are very controversial (as are any source referencing Vietnam religious statistics for that matter), includes an interesting chart. The chart is compiled from a number of sources, and reflects the numbers as of 2019. The chart shows that 5.9 million people “living” in Vietnam “follow” the Catholic religion and 4.6 million follow Buddhism. I am left to assume this includes only Vietnamese nationals and excludes expats, but it is not clearly stated.

To me, what’s notable about this chart is the combined number of these two groups of followers is only 1.09% of the 96,200,000 Vietnamese reported to be living in Vietnam in 2019. To me, this means that 98.9% of Vietnamese do not “follow” either religion; which returns me to my topic of “Christmas in Vietnam” 

Beginning with the first week or so of December, I began seeing western Christian Christmas decorations appearing in a variety of businesses here in Hanoi and elsewhere. Interestingly, there seem to be two types of decoration “presentations”.

One type is depicted in the two photos below. The first photo was taken in the coffee shop here in Hanoi where I'm one of the regulars who always orders the same drink (I walk in and as I approach the counter they always say “Chào bác, cà phê đen?” – which means “Hello person about the same age as my dad, black coffee?” – when in reality they should be saying “Chào ông, cà phê đen” – which is more accurate and means “Hello person about the same age as my grandfather, black coffee?” – just call me Dorian Gray…or don’t. It’s your call). 

The second photo was taken in a famous chocolate shop in Da Lat, called “The Choco” (, which is located in the central highlands of Vietnam. Their webpage is in Vietnamese but the pictures are useful. They make their own chocolate (which, by the way, is a French influence).  FYI: 100,000 VND = ~$1.00 USD; so 170,000₫ = ~$7.00 USD

What these two photos have in common is that they represent what I call the “photo op presentation”. The sole purpose of which seems to be to give your clientele the chance to sit in a chair and have their picture taken on their phone which they then upload to their social media pages (I suppose anyways, given the popularity of social media in VN). I have sat in my coffee shop and watched various customers spend 20-30 minutes posing and having their picture (or group picture) taken. 

The other type of Christmas presentation is what I call the “gimmick presentation”. This can be as simple as a pine Christmas wreath or as elaborate as a pine Christmas tree and pine garlands. The pine is usually fake. That said, there are huge pine forests in the central highlands of Vietnam – who knew? Pine trees in the land of jungles…

The gimmick presentation presents as a means to get folks into the store or bank, as it's often accompanied with a “Christmas sale” of “50% off for Christmas”. 

A similar related gimmick is where the decoration (wreath, pine tree and/or garland) is presented to make a western traveler feel included. For example on a recent trip to Da Lat (a one and a half hour flight south of Hanoi) there was a Christmas wreath on the vanity wall that separated us peons from the aristocrats in first class. You will also see these decorations in hotels and villas.  

picture of a fireplace with a chair in front of it. to the left of the chair is a decorated artificial Christmas pine tree. There is a small Santa Clause doll to the right of the chair that is dressed in gold. there are two hung stockins on the mantle of the fireplace just above the chair and above on the wall is a nut cracker, a picture of a house, and hanging on the wall is a large copy of sheet music sith the title We Wish You a Marry Christmas


In the center fo the picture is the name "The Choco" under a symbol wearing a Santa Hat pointing to the left. Underneath the name The Chaco is a banner saying Merry Christmas. Under that is a fireplace with stockings hung on the mantle and to the left of the fireplace is a medium sized decorated fake Chritmas tree and a larger one is to the right of the fireplace. There is a chair in front of the fireplace.




JULY, p. 9

AUGUST, p. 9


OCTOBER,  p.g 2,  p. 3, p. 4

NOVEMBER p.2, p.3, p.4, p.5, p.6, p.7