Thursday, December 25

Christmas in 'Nam!

I should preface this by saying Christianity itself does not have a strong presence in Vietnam. Nonetheless, the commercial industry has embraced the Christmas season, in bizarre but omnipresent ways: techno versions of Christmas carols, lights, and gaudy decorations everywhere. This was especially true in Ho Chi Minh City, but the TBB crowd made sure it followed us to Quy Nhon: upon arrival at our guesthouse at 3:30 in the morning, Lily, Becca and I didn't go to bed until we'd hung up our Christmas lights around the walls and on our makeshift tree (a clothes rack draped by a green hammock).

It's been warm and sunny all month, but of course it rained Christmas eve and Christmas day. We had a relaxing day to ourselves on Christmas eve, but had a nice group dinner followed by a round of Christmas carols on the walk home. We made a time in our schedule to honor other faiths, too, on Christmas eve; we broke out Becca's supply of gelt, lit the menorah, and learned how to play dreidel.

Then it was time for the Christmas eve night service at a local church. For years, my parents have literally had to drag me to church, but this time, I decided to go on my own accord. Lily, Renee and I went, and it was quite the experience. From two blocks away, you could see something festive going on (Lily even pointed it out, saying "you guys, I think there's a carnival"). But it wasn't a carnival, it was the church, which had been decorated to the point where it looked as if it should be in Las Vegas. Lights were everywhere, strung from the steeple to surrounding third story windows. Illuminated doves flapped their wings, and massive Jesus figures decorated the outside of the chapel. At the center of it all was a giant Nativity scene, with plastic Mary, Jesus, and Joseph, where people crowded around to pose for photos. All around the church, women hawked balloons and Santa costumes and glow-sticks.

We made our way to the entrance, where we encountered a crowd that was more like a mob scene at a rock concert than anything I've ever seen at church before. We were caught up in a crowd of hundreds trying to get through the doors, with people pushing and shoving wildly. Unaccustomed to the aggression it required to move forward, we never made it to the doors before the security guard baricaded the remaining parishoners. We, with many others, were turned away from the house of our Lord. I was disappointed not to witness the service itself, though it'd have been in Vietnamese, but just being at the church was an experience in itself. Locals asked to take pictures of us, we bought glow-sticks, and we enjoyed the hubbub.

Back at the guesthouse, much of the group gathered around a laptop to watch a Muppet's Christmas carol. At midnight, we broke out milk and cookies for Santa. Those of us who missed the northeast weather made it snow with styofoam packing peanuts from the ceiling fan.


When we woke up the next morning, Christmas, it was still gray and dreary, but we cheerfully piled onto the bus for a short ride to a beach resort where we spent the day. It was a fancy hotel, nestled in a rocky cove right on the ocean. It was festively decorated, but not too tacky, and given the drizzling weather, felt quite cozy inside. We were treated to the most amazing brunch buffet ever -- having had nothing but noodle soup for breakfasts lately, the fresh croissants, waffles, omelet station, etc were absolute heaven. Once we'd gourged ourselves, we exchanged final secret santa gifts; Lily gave me the spiffiest suspenders ever. We lazed around the rest of the day, playing volleyball, pool, and Boggle. We had an amazing meal for dinner, then made our way back home.

It was the most unusual Christmas I've had, but quite nice considering we're all away from home. Merry Christmas, I hope you've all had lovely holidays, and Happy New Year!


1 comment:

Carol Slajda said...

Liz,

Thanks for taking us along - you tell a great story
Renee's Mom