The holiday season in Saigon sparkles with a vibrant and colorful spirit like nowhere else in Vietnam.
Around 15 years ago, the boisterous celebrations of Christmas and Easter were mainly limited to religious areas ofSaigon’s District 8, Tan Phu District and Go Vap District. Here, streets and alleys are lit up for the season with bright lights, flowers and statues of Saint Mary and Jesus. The Catholic community goes to churches and sings hymns, with roads leading to Notre Dame Cathedral, Tan Dinh Church, Huyen Si Church and St. Francis Xavier Church, e often jam-packed. From afar, one can hear the echoes of church bells ringing and hymn singing.
In more recent years, Christmas and the new year have become holidays for all Saigon residents. From mega-malls such as Bitexco and Landmark 8, to entertainment areas to high-end apartment complexes, decorations abound with Christmas trees, figures of Santa, and banners of year-end promotions. These places have becomefamiliar destinations for Saigon residents during the festival season, especially families with young children. Christmas is also an official holiday for European and American companies operating in Saigon.
Saigon has seen the rapid development of craft beer breweries, and these bars have become popular places for new year celebrations of young people, especially office workers. These locations also organize special programs during the festive season such as games with prizes and art performances. Famous breweries in Saigon include Pasteur Street Brewing Company, Heart of Darkness Brewery-Saigon, Biacraft Artisan Ales, East West Brewing Co. and Winking Seal Beer Co. After meeting at these bars, many young people head to Nguyen Hue Street for the New Year’s Eve Countdown.
Nguyen Hue Street is the liveliest location in Saigon during new year celebrations. The meticulous decoration of the street takes place weeks prior to New Year’s Eve, with the theme changing every year to attract visitors. Renowned singers and artists often perform at this Countdown event, drawing huge crowds to Nguyen Hue street.
A slightly older crowd may meet up at pubs and speakeasy bars (private bars, not widely advertised), a rapidly-developing model in Saigon. These places can be quieter than breweries and beer clubs and offer a friendly and cozy atmosphere for friends to catch up. At some of the well-known bars, guests have to book in advance due to the sudden influx of customers at year’s end.
Saigon has places for almost everyone to enjoy with friends during this festival season. Teenagers tend to gather in front of convenience stores such as Circle K, Family Mart, and Ministop to sing play guitars, chat about their school life, gossip etc, while many others meet at Saigon’s countless street eateries.
As the night grows old and the sun is about to come out in Saigon, groups of young people can be seen gifting the less fortunate on the streets, at bus stations or on the doorsteps of office buildings. The gifts are nothing luxurious, perhaps just boxes of sweets and foods. Such is Saigon. There’s a gentle and simple kindness that lives on amidst the non-stop urban energy. During this season of festivities, the people of Saigon show that they care about each other.