We moved halfway around the world, but in some ways, it still feels like Christmas. Okay, not really, it’s hot and humid, we’re surrounded by Buddhist temples, and we haven’t heard a whisper about if people are being ‘naughty’ or ‘nice.’ However, we are experiencing the consumerism of Christmas. To us, it’s a complete divide between cultural norms and business interests. At the beginning of December, we started to see storefronts decorate with red and green wreaths and artificial Christmas trees.
Street vendors are selling Santa costumes for adults and children, grocery stores have snow-scape decals, and Christmas songs ring through speakers at the local mall. Some vendors say “Merry Christmas” to us; however, we don’t know if they are saying it to us because of the way we look, or it’s common during this time of year–both are viable options. There aren’t any social norms we learned about or cultural expectations that would be different around Christmas time here. If someone said “Merry Christmas” to us, we said it back. It’s easier than explaining the fact that we do not celebrate Christmas or snubbing them. We didn’t run in to anyone who didn’t know what Christmas was and Justine had a coworker who loved Christmas music. She tried playing it before Thanksgiving even!
We’ve been invited to several Christmas parties, but it’s not entirely ingrained in the culture. The University threw a Christmas party for the international volunteers even though all of the foreigners don’t necessarily celebrate the holiday. In addition, the School of Foreign Languages at TVU held a “Get-Together” for Christmas that featured French, Korean, and English songs, a short play, and a fashion show! Here are a couple photos from the evening. Other foreign volunteers sang “We are the World” by Michael Jackson and students sang a variety of songs, including “Despacito” by Justin Bieber (our new favorite holiday song, of course).
Thinking about Christmas also challenged us to google lots of silly questions about faith, religion, and identity. It’s hard to find exact numbers on Christianity in Vietnam; however we can guesstimate about 8-12% of the population identify as Christian or Catholic. (For curiosity sake, the most common religion in Vietnam is Buddhism). Even though the Vietnamese people we work with do not have time off to celebrate, and regardless of faith, we have still seen many Christmas parties (which is similar to America, just a little different given we’re in Viet Nam). Our counterparts still had to work, but we had a week off to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. While we do not actively celebrate Christmas, it was unusual for us to not see our families. We ended up going to Japan for a couple days to visit a family friend with our time off and then a few days, and our first time, visiting Ho Chi Minh City for New Year’s Eve.
Also, we’ll celebrate Tet with our co-workers in February and write about the differences between calendar year New Year and Vietnamese (lunar) New Year. Happy Holidays to those who celebrate, merry days to those who don’t. Stay tuned for our next adventures.