Christmas may not be a public holiday in Hanoi but that has not stopped the people from celebrating the season
Christmas may not be a public holiday in Hanoi but that has not stopped the people from celebrating the season

As Vietnam is a Buddhist country, Christmas is not a public holiday. But that does not stop the celebrations from going on. My favourite Christmas memory was a few years ago when I hired a Santa Claus to deliver a gift to my son in our home. He was in kindergarten then. He was so surprised to see Santa in his own home. I do not think he ever quite got over it. Right up to the time he was in second grade, he was still writing letters to Santa.

At our serviced residence, Somerset Grand Hanoi, we try to create a festive ambience for our guests. The festivities start as early as November when staff and residents gathered at the lobby for a tree-lighting ceremony to kick off the Christmas season. Since this is the season for giving, we are also launching a few fund-raisers for Yen Loc Primary School in Nam Dinh Province about 80 kilometres from Hanoi.

Soak up the Spirit of Christmas

Elsewhere in the city, Christmas is evident in the streets that are decked with decorations from the beginning of December and the locals dressed in Santa suits zipping around on their motorbikes. One of the best places to soak up the festivities is at Hang Ma Street at the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Arguably one of the city’s most colourful streets, it is less than 10 minutes away from Somerset Grand Hanoi.

During different festive seasons, the strip lined with shops selling gifts, decorations, costumes, and paper products will get into the spirit of things with specific festive offerings. At Christmas, that means every possible kind of ornaments for your tree, Santa suits, greeting cards, artificial snow and Christmas trees - all at a bargain.

O' Holy Night

Christmas is particularly popular with the younger set in the city. There are no turkey dinners but attending midnight mass is a Christmas traditional for local Catholics. About a 10-minute walk from the Somerset Grand Hanoi where I work, is St Joseph’s Cathedral, where the largest Catholic congregation gather to usher in Christmas. The usual practice is to grab a drink at one of the many cafes near the church before going for the Christmas service. Try a Vietnamese iced coffee ( Ca phe da ) which is sweetened with condensed milk, a perfect foil for the dark roasted Vietnamese coffee.

Then, as the night deepens, enter the 19 th -century neo-Gothic style church. With its impressive façade, stained glass made in France, and a vaulted ceiling like those in medieval Europe, the church provides the right atmosphere to contemplate the season.

Another way to spend Christmas eve is to take a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake), a 10-minute walk from Somerset Grand Hanoi. The city’s cool and dry weather during this time of the year makes it just right for taking in the Christmas lights. The lake is not very big. It takes all of 30 minutes to walk around it. But the shimmering lights reflected on the waters and the Ngoc Son Temple sitting on the island in the middle of the lake make for a very pretty sight at night.

Something for your special someone

Hanoi offers plenty of choices when it comes to picking Christmas gifts for your loved ones. Silk is a good bet. Go to Hang Gai Street (Silk Street) where you can buy silk dresses, ties, and ao dai (traditional Vietnamese outfits) or raw fabric by the metre. On the same street, you can also pick up embroidered handicraft: finely made table cloths, bed sheets, pillow cases, cushion covers, quilts, clothes, and cloth picture frames featuring Vietnamese motifs. Lacquerware is another great gift idea. Beautifully crafted and brightly coloured bowls, plates, cups, serving dishes, and trays can all be found on Hang Trong Street.

If you happen to be in Hanoi this Christmas, drop by any of our serviced residences for a visit. Our Somerset serviced residences recently won the Leading Serviced Apartment Brand by the World Travel Awards. When you do, don’t forget to come and say hi. I’ll make you feel right at home this Christmas.

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Somerset Grand Hanoi

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