Christmas in Saigon
      Erin and I quickly learned that Christmas in Saigon is celebrated quite differently! We began Christmas Eve in
Saigon just like many other Christmas Eves—by browsing shops for a few last second gifts.  We started for the
shops a little bit before sunset.  Besides the overcrowded malls the streets of Saigon were no different tonight than
our other evenings in the city. But as the sun set the people of Saigon did not retreat into their homes to enjoy a
peaceful and serene Christmas Eve evening.  Darkness and the megawatt glow of thousands of Christmas lights
brought locals, old and young, out and ignited a party atmosphere typically reserved for New Year’s Eve.  What
exactly made Christmas in Saigon so different?
•  As we strolled the heavily lit shops and sidewalks looking for a few presents we noticed the Christmas
Eve hustle and bustle was not only thumping outside the shops but also inside them. Security guards
blocked our entrance to one store selling silk handbags and forced us to wait outside as the Princess of
Thailand finished buying several last second gifts.
Last second shopping amidst all the Christmas lights.
•  All night, vendors roamed the city center
selling items that every child enjoys.  Candy,
balloons, and, of course, Santa outfits were for

•  Most restaurants and even coffee shops
were overflowing with adults. We were even
turned back at one restaurant due to a
“reservations only” five course dinner party
with live entertainment taking place.  Buses
were dropping off people at almost every hotel
for lively Christmas Eve parties.

•  The neighborhood near our hotel was
reminiscent of a block party before a college
football game.  The sidewalk café tables were
filled with Vietnamese family and friends
throwing back a few bottles of beer and
glasses of wine.  The sound of singing could be
heard from many of these tables as locals
boisterously celebrated Christmas Eve in the

•  Many Vietnamese families live in the same
building as they work. Their shop, be it a
barber, convenience store or dry cleaners,
occupies the ground floor while the second
floor is their private home.  As closing time
approached on Christmas Eve, we witnesses
families hurrying to wrap up the last tasks of
the business day and begin their own
celebration. We watched as one family
transformed their barber shop into a dining
room in minutes. One person swept up the cut
hair from the floor, the other moved aside the
set of drawers containing the scissors, razors,
etc. and the rest unfolded card tables and
chairs in anticipation of a night of fun.
     For the fortunate onlookers like ourselves the sight of barber shops and retail stores filled with families
celebrating Christmas Eve dinner and friends celebrating on the streets heightened our enjoyment of Saigon and
excited us for our own impending homecoming with friends and family the next day.  It is hard to accurately
describe the atmosphere of Christmas Eve in Saigon.  It simply had the energy and festiveness you typically feel on
New Years Eve mixed with the warmth and anticipation of Christmas.
•  The swarming of bees in the streets of Saigon. No wait, they were actually mopeds.  Mopeds filled the
street like no other evening in Saigon.  As they buzzed and darted down the streets of the city center we
realized we were looking at the U.S. equivalent of packing the family in the car and driving through an
upscale neighborhood to marvel at the Christmas lights and decorations adorning the mansions. Instead
of gawking at decorated homes from inside an SUV, Saigon families inexplicably pile four to five people on a
single moped and cruise the downtown area. The luxury hotels and department stores are the object of
their interest, as they are covered from top to bottom in sparkling lights and decorations.

•  When we saw the first Vietnamese toddler dressed as Santa we thought it was cute. When we saw the
second we thought it was coincidence. After seeing dozens of two feet tall Santas scampering around
Saigon we began to wonder what possesses the Vietnamese to dress their two-year-olds up as Santa
Claus? (A child dressed in full Santa outfit was often snuggled between mother and father as they circled
the several round-a-bouts and rode through the city’s heart.   The children gazed starry eyed at all the
Christmas lights illuminating the Saigon skyline.)
Halong Bay
Balloon vendors dotted the sidewalks with their colorful balloons
One of many little Santas on the streets of Saigon
A glimpse of all the mopeds on Christmas Eve