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It's the most wonderful time of year, wherever you are

December 19, 2021 | 10:17 pm PT
Darren Barnard Teacher
Christmas is tradition. Christmas is family. Christmas is friends. Christmas is cheesy songs. Christmas is copious amounts of food and drink. Christmas is exchanging gifts. Christmas is rewatching the Grinch for the 73rd time. Christmas is anything you want it to be.

Spending a Christmas away from home can fill people with trepidation and fear of loneliness. I remember the first Christmas I spent away from the U.K. My family and I flew to Orlando, Florida and I can recall the strange feeling of swimming in a heated-pool on Christmas Day and not a snowflake or pigs in blanket in sight. It was strange. But I quickly realized, location is irrelevant in regards to Christmas. It's about the people you spend it with.

Christmas can feel particularly alienating when you are living in a non-Christian country that doesn't have the same anticipatory excitement for the entirety of December. Although, that doesn't mean you can avoid hearing Mariah Carey on the speakers every time you set foot in a supermarket.

A combination of the expatriate community and consumerism in Vietnam allows westerners to still have an essence of Christmas, whether through the stalls on Hang Ma Street in Hanoi, the countless Christmas markets dotted around or giant trees towering over hotel clerks. The holiday season is here, it's just more subtle compared to the incessant reminders of it all in the west.

A woman poses with a pair of glasses decorated for the Chrismas season in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress

A woman poses with a pair of glasses decorated for the Chrismas season in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress

This year will be my fifth Christmas away from home and the strangeness of it has worn off by now. Of course, I would love to be with my family back home, but the reality of the pandemic has made it more difficult than usual this year. I am also incredibly fortunate that I will be surrounded with friends that will certainly fill the void.

Darrell Heath, who will be spending his first Christmas in Vietnam this year, highlights the importance of spending the big day with these people: "I will travel with my Vietnamese family and spend time with people I have made connections with here."

The contrast compared to back home is evident though. Usually he would wake up at 6 a.m. to begin organizing presents under the trees into separate piles, but this year he intends on traveling to Da Nang.

He added: "It doesn't feel like Christmas to me yet, but that could be because of the heat. However, I am excited to travel and still do something new for Christmas and maybe start new traditions."

Cloe Fiorentino, an English teacher who only arrived in Vietnam a few months ago, will choose to eat out for Christmas dinner with new friends.

She said: "I will be having dinner at a restaurant in Hanoi with some friends. It's very different to home, where I would usually only leave the house for a frosty Christmas morning walk."

You could argue that after spending a few Christmases away from home the abnormality of it all is lessened. The monumental build-up to one singular day is enormous in western countries and it can often feel rather anti-climatic once the day draws to a close. People enjoy continuing these traditions and festivities that usually occur at home to encapsulate the feeling of the big day whilst living abroad.

George Martin, an English teacher from the U.K., who has spent numerous Christmases in Vietnam, said: "I have made an effort to preserve the Christmas spirit by sharing food and playing games with my friends, just as I would if I was at home with my family. However, I do feel like some of the festive feeling is lost when it’s warm enough to take a dip in the pool on Christmas Day!"

This time of year is also often a time of reflection. A chance to look back with those integral people in your lives. Which can sometimes make being away from home even more difficult.

Martin also reflects on this: "Christmas has always been a time for family so this time of year often leaves me reflecting on the occasions I’ve missed due to living so far from home.

"My first Christmas away from home was a few months after coming to Vietnam in 2016 and I was definitely helped by spending it with a big group of friends that were in a similar situation."

It may be impossible for many of us to be with our families this year, but I hope every westerner living in Vietnam has a new family around them to share the big day with.

*Darren Barnard is an English teacher living in Hanoi.

 
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