This is my first Christmas in Saigon since moving here earlier in 2018. Coming from a city where you can find Christmas Markets around every corner to enjoy mulled wine and eat some lovely treats it was interesting to see how Christmas will be in my new home.
First of all, yes, I missed the Christmas markets. There are a few “day” markets in different areas and schools – but due to work I somehow managed to miss them all.
So due to the lack of this, I really didn’t get into the Christmas mood until one week before Christmas. And this was due to the fact that I started to explore the Christmas decorations. Yes, I saw the local ones near (especially the bright and blinking one opposite of my window), but it is actually very interesting to go around and look for them.
The obvious choices are the churches, it is difficult to miss it. Lots of lights and of course the nativity scenes. I loved driving around, and stopping at the different churches. I loved the Pink Church in District 3 near my home (also known as Nha Tho Tan Dinh), as the lights are pink as well. It just looks beautiful (the bells ringing at the full hour or before each service are something different as well).
Then of course there is Notre Dame Cathedral. Even though there is renovation work ongoing it is still a great sight at night. In the evening locals sit in front of the cathedral enjoying the view while having a drink or small snacks. Having chestnuts while sitting there is quite Christmassy for me.
While the lights at the churches or around District 1 are nice, nothing comes close to Pham The Hien Street in District 8. It is a detour from the central of Saigon, but if you like Christmas decoration, with the chance of Street food – and don’t mind busy roads – this is the place to be during Christmas time. The locals decorate their homes with lights and you can see a lot of beautiful (and big) nativity scenes. If you go there – check how the entrances of the houses are covered or incorporated in the decoration. While fighting through the gridlock streets (especially during the weekend) you continuously stop to take in the scene – or try one of the dishes served along the road (from sweet coconut filled rice cracker, Korean or Indian dishes). I loved walking along the street – even while it was every very busy. One of my highlights of the Christmas season in Saigon.
On Christmas Eve the streets around Saigon are busy – locals heading into town to see the decoration and the churches are packed for every single service – it is so busy people are standing outside the yard onto the streets to join in. But the services are not just taking place in the churches – along the canal between D1, D3 and Phu Nhuan there are several outdoor services next to the canal. As I was too late for the services in the churches (the great Christmas dinner took longer than planned – Klöße, Red Cabbage and duck with some mulled wine reminded me of Christmas back home…) – I joined one of the outdoor ones. It was a bit cooler than sitting in a church, and nice way to experience the Christmas Eve service with the locals.
On Christmas Day itself I enjoined the English Christmas Service at Notre Dame. Again, very busy (9am in the morning), and I must admit, it was a great service. And the local choir was great. The acoustic in the cathedral (even with the speakers) was very good. No better way to start Christmas Day.
For now I want to wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas. I hope you and your loved ones have a peaceful and happy festive period.