For nearly two million Vietnamese Americans, attitudes toward Christmas can capture the community’s adeptness in fusing the cultural influence of America with their own traditions. The result is a blend that enriches the cultural mosaic of the United States.
The most unique feature of Vietnamese American Christmas is its universality. Specifically, Christmas for the community is not just a holiday for Christians but also for Buddhists. Many Buddhist Vietnamese Americans celebrate Christmas at their homes by putting up decorations or organizing family dinners. The reason is not religious, but rather an effort to create traditions related to the holiday season, albeit on Vietnamese terms. For food, many Vietnamese Americans organize Christmas dinners that blend elements of American and Vietnamese cuisine. For example, turkey is brined with Asian spices or prime rib is served with Vietnamese papaya salad.
In Vietnam, Christmas has also become a major holiday season despite the predominance of people with no religious affiliations in the country (86% of Vietnamese people do not formally belong to any religion versus 7% identifying as Christians). Christmas, and more broadly Christianity, can trace its roots in Vietnam back to French rule from 1884 to 1954. However, the holiday was largely confined within the Christian community during that time. Nowadays, come Christmastime, the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, two of the largest cities of Vietnam, are filled with excited people frolicking under the light of street decorations. Catholic Cathedrals, meanwhile, are often decorated with big nativity scenes. Here and there, Christmas trees (artificial of course) spring up to contribute more to the Christmas atmosphere in the tropical country. For Vietnamese children, like their Western counterparts, Christmas is also an exciting time when they can receive gifts from Santa Claus (though they are rarely stuffed in stockings like in the West).
For Vietnamese on either side of the Pacific, Christmas has become a major holiday, and they incorporate unique traditions to make the holiday special.
Tri Vo is a participant of the Young Professional Program of the East-West Center. He recently graduated from the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.