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It’s merry Christmas in Vietnam
December 27, 2005

The bells have yet to peal for Christmas Eve but Tran Xuan Tinh’s family has been ready to celebrate the birth of Christ for a week.

A nativity scene solemnly adorns the altar of their house in Ha Noi’s Ham Long Street with a tall, colourful Christmas tree nearby.

"We are very joyful as Christmas nears," said Tinh.
 Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas in Hanoi,  Merry Christmas Vietnam

"It’s the most hallowed and important festival to us Catholics."

It was also the time to send messages of goodwill to far-away relatives and friends by postcard, email or telephone.

A few steps away, in Ham Long Church, people parishioners who share Tinh’s faith are putting the final touches to the stage decorations for tonight’s carol singing.

All Viet Nam seems to have embraced the Christmas cheer.

And that in a country where less than 10 per cent are Christian.

In Ha Noi and HCM City, malls are packed with Christmas decorations.

Christmas gift delivery services are busy together with numerous sightings of Santa Claus.

Viet Nam Fatherland Front Central Committee President Pham The Duyet visited the Archbishop of the Ha Noi Diocese, Ngo Quang Kiet, yesterday.

Duyet praised parishioners for their contributions and responses to movements launched by the Viet Nam Committee for Solidarity among Catholics and the Fatherland Front Central Committee.

Kiet thanked the Fatherland Front for helping Catholics and hoped it would continue to be a spiritual base for them in combining religious activities with socio-economic development.

Duyet also visited Bishop Nguyen Van Sang in Thai Binh Province and presented gifts to some parishioners in the province.

On the same day, the head of the Government’s Committee for Religious Affairs, Ngo Yen Thi, also visited Kiet and Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung.

The leaders of the Committee for Religious Affairs and the Fatherland Front also visited leaders of the Viet Nam Bishops Conference; the Archbishops of Hue and of HCM City; the Evangelical Church of Viet Nam (in the North) and the General Confederation of the Evangelical Church of Viet Nam (in the South).

While parishioners celebrate in churches or at home, the non-religious celebrate with their own feasts at hotels, parks or in their offices.

Unseasonable cold weather is making the festival even more exciting than usual in HCM City.

There, the most magnificent scene is the "Children’s Festival" held in Park 30/4 outside Thong Nhat (Unification) Palace in District One in the heart of the city.

Viet Nam Religion Research Institute director Do Quang Hung said the celebration among urban dwellers showed the demand for community interaction.

This had been reinforced by internationalisation and globalisation.

Ha Noi Diocese priest Dang Duc Ngan said this year’s pre-Christmas bustle matched that of other years.

Carols will be sung both inside and outside the 119-year-old St Joseph’s Cathedral in NhaTho Street instead of in the grounds of the city’s grand seminary.

"Local authorities have always created favourable conditions for the parishioners to practise their religious beliefs through the Catholic Church’s yearly working programme," said Ngan in an interview with a Viet Nam News Agency reporter.

He quoted the Vatican’s chief missionary, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, who, during his visit to Viet Nam last month, said that Christians in Viet Nam showed their belief through their passionate vitality.

He concluded that Viet Nam’s Catholic Church was enthusiastic and engrossed in social activities.

The Cardinal’s visit impressed many Vietnamese Catholics and their response was illustrated by Tran Xuan Tinh’s assertion that Christmas this year was more significant because of the Cardinal’s visit.

When people flock to Ha Noi’s Hang Ma or Luong Van Can Streets for their Christmas shopping today, Tinh will prepare for midnight Mass by reviewing what he has done in the past year and preparing changes for the better in the new year.

"I want to emulate the teachings of Jesus by loving and sharing with the poor," he said.

Christmas was celebrated joyously in Vietnam with people thronging city roads right from Saturday evening.

In Hanoi thousands began pouring out of their homes from as early as 4 p.m. to congregate in front of St. Joseph's Cathedral to get a glimpse of an 11m Christmas tree beautifully decorated by 30 people over the last month. Three stages had been set up outside the Cathedral for singing hymns.

In Ho Chi Minh City light rain did not prevent a huge number of people from gathering around Notre Dame Cathedral to attend a celebration which began at 10. The Catholic Cultural Center also saw thousands attending.

Traffic in the city was moving at a snail’s pace between 9 p.m. and midnight

In the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, nearly 75,000 Protestants celebrated the birth of Jesus at some 400 different places.

To share in the celebrations, municipal and provincial leaders visited holy places and met Christian dignitaries Saturday night.

This year all kinds of new “services” sprang up for Christmas. For a small fee a properly-clad Santa Claus on a motorbike delivered gifts to children at home. Others sent “beautiful princesses” and “angels” to play with children.

Vietnam, 8 to 10 percent of whose population is Christian, saw last month 57 priests ordained in the capital by a Vatican official in what was one of the most significant events in Vietnamese Catholic history.

Chairman of the Hanoi People's Committee, Nguyen Quoc Trieu led a Hanoi delegation to visit the Hanoi Arch-bishop's House and the Vietnam (northern) Protestant Church on December 24.

Mr Trieu wished Hanoi Arch-Bishop Ngo Quang Kiet, his clerics and followers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

"I hope that Catholic clerics and believers will continue living in good relationship with others in their communities and further contribute to developing Hanoi into a developed city of the regional level," said Mr Trieu.

Arch-bishop Kiet expressed thanks to the local administration for its policies in favour of religious freedom. He wished Hanoi greater achievements in the years to come.

At the House of the Vietnam (northern) Protestant General Council, Chairman Nguyen Quoc Trieu also expressed all best wishes to the council's head, Pastor Phung Quang Huyen, his clerics and followers on the 2005 Christmas.

In Ha Tay, west of Hanoi, the provincial administration also paid courtesy visits to Hanoi Arch-bishop Ngo Quang Kiet and Pastor Vu Huy Chuong of the Hung Hoa Bishop House. The provincial Department for Religious Affairs also visited and presented gifts to clerics and believers of the Tinh Lam diocese in Dai Thanh village, Quoc Oai province

Ha Tay boasts 281 churches and 47 dioceses with a Catholic population of 130,000.

In the meantime, more than 4,000 poor Protestant followers in the Central Highlands province of Dac Nong celebrated Christmas in new houses given them as gifts from the Government and socio-political organisations.

In 2005, Dac Nong allocated over 24.6 billion VND from its budget to the building of 1,258 new houses and the repair of 2,002 houses for Protestant followers, who are poor ethnic minority people in the town of Gia Nghia and the districts of Dak R'Lap, Dac Song, Cu Jut, Dak Mil, Krong No, and Dak Glong.

The province also assigned the agricultural sector and the authorities of the above-said districts to exploit 3,000 cu. m of wood to help the beneficiaries build and repair their houses.

The Viet Nam Fatherland Front chapter in the province mobilised 1.2 billion VND from the public to build 62 new houses and repair 62 others for Protestant followers. In addition, local public employees and armed forces contributed one day of their salaries to this purpose. Source: Nhan dan Newspaper, Vietnam News Agency, Thanh Nien Newspaper - 25 December, 2005

Christmas in Hanoi -

? OK. I'm traveling over the holidays partly to get away from the idiotic frenzy that plagues my homeland during the last few weeks of every year.

But ... since I'll be in Hanoi for Christmas (and Hoi An for New Year's Day) I figure I might as well partake in the fun -- if there is any. I have read that some Vietnamese do celebrate Christmas, even in non-Christian areas. What do they do? Will there be parties or celebrations or parades of any sort? Or is it just treated as a religious holiday for Christians?

=> While Ho Chi Minh goes full-out with Christmas decorations, I hardly noticed anything when in Hanoi. Some of the restaurants that cater to foreign clientele will have special Christmas dinners, and there may be some events happening at the larger hotels.

=>  You are welcome to join us at Ta Hien Bia Hoi from around 6.00pm on Xmas eve ... lots of people .... some good cheer ... I bring some tinsel and silly hats will certainy meet some other people to move on to another place ...or travel contacts for the remainer of your journey ....

if inclined ... midnight mass at St Joseph's is cool for those not too bruised by a catholic childhood

let me know if you want more details ...or if you see a big red head with a sketchbook... say Merry Xmas and you may get a small suprise from Santa ....

=>  I was in Hanoi for Xmas last year 2007/08 and it was pretty nuts on the streets at Midnight, thousands and thousands of motos many with the entire family on the bike, motos with santas everywhere, and the main drag near the lake is gridlock, all the way to St Josephs. But Saigon throws a huge festival by Notre Dame thats food, drink and live bands, a real bar n burner.

I also spent New Years in Hoi An on that trip, and have reservations, as every GH in town was sold out, booked and we stayed 2KM south of town which was fine, but the cafes and streets are clogged with more tourist than in all VN IMO, hard to even find a VN local. Two days in Hoi An during New Years and I could not wait to get the hell out, too many tourist everywhere. They do have fireworks on the river at Midnight, you can rent a small boat and paddle around to watch them, bring some booze, and it can be very cool and drizzly too.

If I did this again, I would stay in Hue for New Years, or Danang Riverwalk, its a more local affair.

Hello Celestine- Poster Celestine and her husband Bill are great to be with on the holiday, I met them in Laos in 2004 and its was like being with family, of course I come from a dysfunctional Irish Catholic family of 6 kids, no offense Celestine :)

It looks the little wife and are headed to Paris for Xmas, then on to Morocco for 2 weeks, finally setting foot in Africa :)

? => Thanks, all. Celestine, maybe we'll take you up on it.
We were in Thailand just after Christmas a few years ago, and I can't begin to describe how surreal for this New Englander to stumble on the Christmas decorations and pageantry at Siam Square.

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