Are you feeling stressed out lately? There is only one more week to get through. Try hard! But here’s something to help you feel better. All the way on the other side of the world, in Sai Gon, Vietnam, my friends still have another two months to go until the big holiday. Plus, their final exams are, most of the time, just around Christmas day. How fun! I know this is mean, but thinking of them, is one of the stress-relieving tips that I use beside the ones that I picked up from the library.
Christmas is not an official holiday in Vietnam. We still go to school on the 24th and 25th of Dec., and have to remember that unfortunately, finals are waiting. However, what I miss most during this time of year is the unique mixture of meanings and ways to celebrate this “unofficial” holiday at night. For some, it is a night to go out with friends. For others, especially Christians, it is a holy time of year.
When the sky is covered with strings of lights, and every street corner is filled with decorations, we know Christmas has come in Vietnam. Traditionally, for the Catholic community, we often have mass service at 9 p.m. What my family often does after the mass is go out for dinner. I love it when my parents take us to a French bakery for some non-traditional cuisine. I love the smell of Christmas pastries, especially Christmas cake, but I always scrape off the cream and eat the inside. Milk and butter don’t even make it to the bottom of my favorite food list. That’s how my family celebrates Christmas Eve.
Have you ever set your life speed to zero? There is no better way to try that than spending a Christmas Eve in downtown Sai Gon. Unlike America, where everybody spends the holy night at home, people in Sai Gon love to go out to celebrate the night together as a big community. And so, on Christmas Eve, downtown Sai Gon is packed with people. They come from every corner of the city, regardless of any beliefs or religions. It doesn’t matter if you drive, bike, or walk, you will find yourselves stuck at one place forever, it seems. And I am pretty sure that you will not be able to come home before four o’clock the next morning.
When I was a child, Sai Gon was not yet over-populated. My dad used to take us downtown on Christmas Eve. We enjoyed blending in with people walking in the city center, seeing all the colorful lights and decorations, and hearing Christmas music from the outdoor concert in the city’s opera house filling in the air. I remember sitting on my dad’s shoulders, feeling like I was on top of the world. We haven’t done that for a while. I am grown up now. It is impossible for my dad to carry me on his shoulders, or at least, I would not want him to do that to me anyway. Plus, my humble height would probably not allow me to see anything in that large crowd of people. We stay home instead.
None of the Christmases that I have now will be the same as the ones in Sai Gon. No traffic jams and no late night of studying for finals. But it will not be the same as any other Christmas elsewhere either. It will be a unique experience that will soon become a unique memory for me to carry in my heart, just as I have always carried Christmas in Sai Gon.
Chau Bui is a sophomore broadcasting major.