We had a month of holidays on our hand and we decided to travel. Why not? I mean who wastes a holiday break like that? We chose to spend Christmas in Vietnam. Why? We loved the food, it was near enough to India (not!) and it was cheap. To tell you the truth Christmas was not really on our mind when we were planning our trip. We decided to celebrate Christmas wherever the wind blew us and in retrospect it was a great idea. Our Christmas in Vietnam was celebrated with in Hoi An, a relatively small town which was once a French colony.


A few days before Christmas I was busy chatting with my aunt and I told her that I felt that the magic had gone out of Christmas. I asked her if it was a part of growing older. To her credit she didn’t laugh at me (I’m just 28!) and said that it sometimes feels like that. You need to find the magic for yourself she said. She couldn’t have said anything more true.

Vietnam has a relatively small population of Christians and we didn’t think that it would be celebrated but it is. It certainly isn’t as big a celebration as one in Goa is but it did us good to see the streets lighting up. It was the eve of Christmas and our train arrived late afternoon (and it was late!) in Da Nang. We caught a cab (prearranged by our home stay) at the train station which was to take us to Hoi An. With the rain on our heads and the aches in our bones, I was glad for the small bit of comfort.


The eve of Christmas in Vietnam was spent discovering the old town of Hoi An. Grabbing snacks on the way and wandering through the streets was a cool way to get acquainted with the city. I travelled with family (Shawn!) but there was a part of me that yearned for the Goan holiday with all its trimmings. The simplicity of the day accompanied by family is sometimes one of the most significant lures that a landmass can have. The feeling was contagious and before long Shawn confessed that he felt the same.

We bumped into two German friends who we had met in on our Halong bay tour. A pact was made to find a great place to eat and to meet up the next day. We then wandered on to find the church and the timings of the mass.

The crowded Christmas market set up by the youth in Hoi An.

The crowded Christmas market set up by the youth in Hoi An.

Before we could tread on sacred land we stumbled across a small Christmas market that was organized by the youth in the area. It was a fun market with loads of clothes at dirt cheap prices. We joined in on the celebrations. The Vietnamese are really friendly people. They taught us how to eat different Vietnamese dishes and laughed at our mistakes. The magic of Christmas began to slowly creep into our souls once again.

CHRISTMAS IN VIETNAM: A different kind of vigil!

Christmas in Vietnam

The children of Hoi An acting in a Christmas play.

The Christmas vigil was set to start at 8 pm and the midnight mass at 9 pm. We aimed to reach in time for mass but reached half an hour early. What surprised us was the troves of bikes and people that were headed in the same direction. Walking was difficult but we made it only to find a play being put up by the children. The square was crowded and the play was an integral part of the day’s celebrations. It was done so tastefully with backdrops being projected on a screen and even fireworks!


Christmas in Vietnam

We caught a glimpse of the inside of the church before mass!

The Christmas mass was held in Vietnamese which was no surprise. We seated ourselves very close to the choir and we were very lucky to hear the delightful voices of all the participants in full force. Since there were a lot of foreigners in the crowd, the priest translated a few sentences to English and French. I did learn a few interesting things.

  • No matter what language the priest speaks, he will always speak in the same tone or tune. Wasn’t something that I had realized before!
  • Customs from the land you live in seep into the mass. In this case, all the participants wore traditional Vietnamese clothing while the locals did not. While we are used to a chiming bell, the Vietnamese mass has both a bell and a drum. Not very significant to a person who does not know that the Vietnamese believe that the bell and the drum are symbols of Yin and Yang. That is why they are always placed together to attain balance.
  • Silent night is universal! Yes! This made me so immensely happy for they sung Silent night in Vietnamese. I started getting a bit homesick at one point when a girl stepped out and continued to sing the carol in English. It was so heartwarming that I had to go and thank the Nun who included it in the celebratory mass.

Balloon figures were being sold outside the church. I have never seen a Santa Claus face as a balloon figure before. Needless to say I was enchanted. Santa Claus balloons were another big attraction and almost all the children in the vicinity had one in their hand. Red caps, happy faces and a lot of noise was the norm of the moment.

Strangers wishing us Merry Christmas made our eyes light up. There was magic in the air! It was magic that made strangers become friends without the barrier of color, caste or nationality. It made me wonder whether we are at odds with each other because we have lost our magic and we can’t see how similar we really are.


Our Christmas greetings to the world from Vietnam

Food always makes us happy. It is a universal need and I’ve found that it is one need that seasoned travelers put before every other. Shawn and I decided to engage in a little merriment and dine our family Christmas lunch in one of the top rated restaurants in Hoi An. We weren’t disappointed. The food was good but a full stomach didn’t stop us from sampling street food when we discovered the Hoi An Food market.

Shawn decided to click a snap and share the location when he realized that they had suggested the very same place! It was a pleasant surprise. Our meal was a nice pleasant affair. I guess the best way to bond with someone is over food. Our friends Stephanie and Thoralf kept us in splits of laughter as we tried to taste as much as we could from the menu.


Wandering through the streets brought us to the boats on the river. We chose one and perched ourselves on it. Beers and cold drinks were supposed to end the day but the day was far from over. We watched the lanterns float by us, listened to a man playing the guitar and exchanged stories on what is considered normal in our countries. All this was done from our vantage point on the boat.


Christmas in Vietnam

Christmas night in Hoi An old town.

I think that the lanterns on the road gave our Christmas in Vietnam an extra special experience but I think the company was the key. We browsed through shops, discarded the idea of buying lanterns (for they would break) and tried to find a perfect set of chopsticks. Time went by way too fast. The evening had started out at 6 pm and in no time it was bordering around 10. It was a reluctant goodbye and we parted with a new pact on the table. A pact to meet in Ho Chi Minh and discover the sights!

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2018-08-11T11:51:21+00:00 December 26th, 2016|Asia, Destinations, Hoi An, Vietnam|13 Comments


  1. Amanda Tran @ LVV Travel January 15, 2017 at 12:40 am - Reply

    What a lovely experience to spend Christmas in Vietnam. I attend a Vietnamese church back in Perth, Australia and yep, all Christmas carols get translated! It’s great hey! What was your fave part of Vietnam?

    • Penny January 15, 2017 at 12:46 am - Reply

      It is hard to narrow it down to just one location but if I had to I would say Cat Ba island in Halong bay. It was just so peaceful and perfect!

  2. Katie @ The Katie Show Blog January 15, 2017 at 5:05 am - Reply

    Wow, this looks like a nice way to spend the holidays. I’m glad they sang silent night just when you needed it to help with the homesickness.

  3. Melissa January 15, 2017 at 7:25 am - Reply

    I’m glad they had celebrations, even though they were smaller than where you’re from. It’s still fun to celebrate no matter how old we get 🙂

  4. Sandy from Tray Tables Away July 2, 2017 at 4:40 am - Reply

    What a great Christmas experience you’ve had. We are heading to Hoi An next year – everyone seems to love it!

  5. Kat July 2, 2017 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    The Christmas market looks like a fun experience! I would love to experience Christmas in another country, and Vietnam seems like a great place to spend the holidays!

    • Penny July 3, 2017 at 2:43 am - Reply

      It was our first experience. I have to admit that I felt odd at first. We are so used to our own rituals and celebrations. It does put you out of your comfort zone. Then you slowly begin to marvel at how similar the functions and celebrations are. That’s when it all began to seep in. Making new friends definitely helped make the holiday seem perfect.

  6. Sheila July 3, 2017 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    Sometimes I have felt like you regarding Christmas. My first Christmas away from my family felt awful, so I think it also has to do with who you are spending with and if those around you are carrying the ‘magic’ or not’. Very interesting to see how they celebrate Christmas in Vietnam, and smiled about the part regarding Silent Night.

    • Penny July 3, 2017 at 7:27 pm - Reply

      Couldn’t agree with you more. The Magic part of Christmas is a large part of the holiday. Throwing things together, decorating and everything else is secondary. It is the fun of having your loved ones together and celebrating that makes Christmas for me.

  7. Madhurima Dutta August 9, 2017 at 8:50 am - Reply

    Hi guys, we love your blog and would like to nominate it for the “Versatile Blogger Award”.

  8. Rachel July 11, 2018 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    Can you let me know where is the location of the Christmas Market and also the church? We will be in Hoi An this year for Christmas too 🙂

    • Penny July 12, 2018 at 6:44 am - Reply

      Hi Rachel. I think the church was the Jubilee Mercy Catholic church in Hoi An. The Christmas market may not particularly be around this year too. We got the feeling that it was something that the local youth put together. Nevertheless it was close to the church so it is rather hard to miss.

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