Christmas spirit grips Viet Namís big cities
Although Christmas does not have historical roots in Viet Nam, people across the country are filled with the holiday spirit. Huong Ly, Phuoc Buu and Hoang Ha report.
The streets and buildings in Ha Noi have been lavishly decorated with Christmas trees, reindeer, presents, and so on. Windows are framed with multi-coloured lights, and Christmas songs float through hallway speakers. Gift-shopping and present-wrapping have been in full swing
Walking along Hang Ma Street in Hanoi, Nguyen Hoang Yen browses through colourful ribbons and decorative balls to pick out several favourites. After finally taking a package of tiny bells and golden balls, Yen also picks up wrapping paper imprinted with Santas and the unmistakable phrase "Merry Christmas".
Although Yenís family is not Christian, she says a Christmas celebration has been their custom for several years.
"My children simply assume Santa Claus to be a Western Buddha and they can wish not only for luck, but also for various gifts," she says
Hanoian Ngo Truong Sinh, who recently married a Christian woman, says he often went to the Christmas Eve mass even before he met his wife.
Sinh and his friends often visited churches in Ha Noi on Christmas Eve merely to join in with the atmosphere of the crowd, take a couple of pictures and have fun together.
After twice accompanying his wife to observe rituals in the Cua Bac Church, he said he felt a deeper respect for Christmas and its meaning.
"My feelings are now quite different," he said. "Despite my lack of religious obligation, I feel more excited about Christmas than ever before and consider the holiday part of my life."
Christmas seems to have become a special occasion for the whole community, which can be obviously seen by what is going on in Hue these days.
Despite more than 600 pagodas that exist in the former royal city of Hue, the religious holiday of Christmas has been embraced by nearly everyone in the area: Buddhists, Christians and even non-believers.
"Christmas has become an international holiday and cultural event," explains Bishop Anthony Duong Quynh of the cityís Phu Cam diocese, which has 5,560 Christian parishioners.
"Guests who come to visit our cathedral during Christmas include Buddhist monks. We respect each otherís religion. Christmas is not just for Christians," he adds.
Hueís Phu Cam Cathedral, one of its biggest churches and well-known for its architectural features, was built in 1960 on a hill where an orange plantation once stood. On Christmas Eve, people walk en masse on the streets to the church square and later attend mass.
"I was extremely happy to see thousands of people gathered around the cathedral waiting for the Christmas Eve service last year," Bishop Quynh says. "I love the peaceful atmosphere of the crowds."
"The strongest feeling I had was peace."
Known in Viet Nam as Noel after the French introduced it and Catholicism to the country years ago, the holiday has various meanings for many people. But all agree that the bells ringing at midnight on Christmas Eve signal the universal desire for peace.
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