Christmas & New Year away from home

December 11, 2020 | 09:30
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Around the world, Christmas is taking on a whole new complexion this year. In countries such as the US and the UK, the festive period is about meeting up with family, often having to travel hundreds of miles to do so, and sharing stories and generally interacting. In many cases, this will be frowned upon.
christmas new year away from home
Christmas & New year away from home

For months people had been hoping the pandemic was squashed enough for them to be able to enjoy a normal Christmas – but tight restrictions in many countries have put paid to this. In addition, nations like England are offering looser restrictions around Christmas, but with the certainty of an even tougher January.

For many foreigners living and working in Vietnam, the decision to travel home for Christmas was largely made for them – it simply is not possible or safe enough for them to do so, and that does not even include making it back into Vietnam after the festivities are over with.

Leigh Redemer, head of language and literature at an international school in Hanoi, has been used to living and working in different countries, but unlike this year she has always been with her family during the holiday season. “This time around, my parents, my sister, and I are all on different continents. I’ll still celebrate with friends here on Christmas Day, but usually I’d be with my family baking cookies, going to Christmas markets, and wearing ugly festive sweaters.”

Despite the sadness at missing out on family-oriented events, many foreigners in Vietnam have expressed their gratitude at the country’s mostly excellent response to the ongoing pandemic. Even though in many ways Vietnam is waiting for the rest of the world to catch up in order to truly thrive, in other respects the Christmas season here can be celebrated as normally as possible.

“I feel grateful to be able to travel domestically and feel safe in Vietnam at this time, whereas I wouldn’t feel that back home in the US,” explained Leigh. “People in my profession get a few weeks off work and that’s always fun.”

Indeed, a large section of the expat community in Hanoi and elsewhere have been planning mini getaways to celebrate Christmas with their friends, with Phu Quoc Island being a particular favourite.

Lisa Cole, an education co-ordinator also based in Hanoi, is heading to the island on Boxing Day with friends. “We can’t leave Vietnam but there are so many fun options in the country for trips anyway. It’s nice to have friends around you when your family is so far away, but we’ll still be able to catch up on FaceTime.”

Other expatriates in Vietnam are in professions that do not offer the same downtime as in education, and so even in these strangest of years, Christmas could feel like more of the same.

“I’ve been living here for a few years and I’ve gotten used to Lunar New Year being the real festive season instead of Christmas,” said Steven Campbell, who works remotely for a software company. “I miss people back in England but Christmas here is just another day at work. I prefer that actually – back home in normal times it’s a very stressful period, with presents to buy and grand dinners and events to prepare in freezing temperatures.”

The level of involvement in the festive season in Vietnam is easier to craft. Foreigners with family on the other side of the world no longer feel the peer pressure of having to attend gatherings and be nice to even the most annoying family members. And while many love carols and festive pop tunes and decorations, it can be easy for Christmas grinches to avoid in this country if they really want to.

But for those that want to jump right in and embrace the Christmas spirit, there is no better place than Vietnam this year. Themed markets will be found outside cathedrals or on walking streets in the major cities of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Danang. Christmas Eve events in particular are popular in these cities as well as in tourism hotspots such as Nha Trang. Shopping centres and hotels will be full of colourful and snazzy decorations. And decorative items, ornaments, and costumes will be found in and around the capital’s Old Quarter.

“We should appreciate the fact we can do all these things, as long as we wash our hands and wear a mask of course,” said Lisa. “Just being in a group of people and interacting has been taken for granted in the past. It’s going to be a tough time for many people worldwide, but I’m proud to get to spend the end of a difficult year here in Vietnam.”

By Quang Bao

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