“Lễ Giáng Sinh” is the Vietnamese term for Christmas. “Lễ” translates to “holiday” or “festival,” and “Giáng Sinh” refers explicitly to Christmas. Therefore, “Lễ Giáng Sinh” can be understood as the Christmas holiday or Christmas festival in the Vietnamese language.

My friends and I went to Vietnam this holiday season to experience the Christmas celebration. We started our trip from Ho Chi Minh City (the largest city in Vietnam and also known as Saigon) and witnessed the Christmas Eve celebration in complete awe.

The city came alive with bright lights and joyful sounds as the sun set — the cheerful chatter of locals, melodic Christmas carols, and the smell of street food cooking made the whole place feel festive and exciting. It was the perfect start to the holiday season.

I have compiled this story with what I learned from my journey and all the wondrous experiences one can have in Ho Chi Minh during Christmas.

A Little Bit About Vietnamese Christmas — Giáng Sinh

Christmas decorations all around. Photo credit: Somil Gupta
Christmas decorations all around. Photo credit: Somil Gupta

Since the country used to be a French colony, the Vietnamese way of celebrating Christmas draws influence from its colonial past. Catholic churches around here set up scenes with giant statues of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus for Christmas.

You can spot these lovely displays in front of some houses, spreading Christmas cheer to the whole neighborhood. I also got to know some interesting facts from the locals.

Unlike the well-known Santa Claus, who’s said to use a flying sleigh and come down chimneys, the Vietnamese Santa Claus, known as Ông già Noel, does things differently. He rides a motorbike instead. You can see everywhere in Vietnam; there are too many of them, to be honest.

If you are visiting Vietnam in December and wondering how to say Merry Christmas, “Giáng Sinh Vui Vẻ!” is the most appropriate saying for you. “Giáng Sinh” means Christmas, and “Vui Vẻ” means happy.

Read More: A look at India’s French colonial past

Enjoy Christmas Celebration in Saigon’s Streets and Churches

GrabExpress organized the Christmas celebration near Saigon Sky Deck. Photo credit: Somil Gupta
GrabExpress organized the Christmas celebration near Saigon Sky Deck. Photo credit: Somil Gupta

You can see the most authentic Christmas atmosphere when you step foot on Saigon streets.

Let me take you there!

Streets in Ho Chi Minh City glow with sparkling lights and colorful decorations. Traditional markets are filled with handmade ornaments and gifts, showcasing the best Vietnamese craftsmanship.

It’s a festive feast for the eyes with all the colors surrounding us, along with a shopping paradise waiting for you to enter.

Notre Dame Cathedral — District 1

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon in District 1. Photo credit: Somil Gupta
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon in District 1. Photo credit: Somil Gupta

In Saigon, people love heading to the city center for Christmas celebrations, especially near the Catholic Cathedral (Notre Dame Cathedral) in District 1. Many folks gathered in churches and downtown Saigon in the evening to celebrate Christmas Eve.

The streets were buzzing with excitement. Guess the best part?

Cars were prohibited at night here, turning the area into a car-free zone. Seeing everyone walking around, soaking in the festive spirit, was quite a sight.

Plus, with all the decorations around here, it is impossible not to get lost in the festive spirit. It feels like a big, exciting party with people laughing, enjoying music, and sharing the season’s joy.

Saigon turned into a magical place on Christmas Eve.

Bui Vien Walking Street — Street That Never Sleeps

Bustling walking street with lamps all around. Photo credit: Somil Gupta
Bustling walking street with lamps all around. Photo credit: Somil Gupta

Another place that I loved and would like you to suggest for your holiday season trip to Ho Chi Minh City is Bui Vien Walking Street for the biggest, brightest displays and most illuminated pedestrian thoroughfare at night. Interestingly, Bui Vien Street is also known as the “street that never sleeps.

Thousands of people gathered for the celebration, and you could hear music all night. The streets were packed with excited people, creating a truly fantastic atmosphere. Therefore, celebrating Christmas here is undoubtedly a great decision for experiencing a lively and enjoyable atmosphere.

Illuminated Bui Vien Walking Street on Christmas Eve. Photo credit: Somil Gupta
Illuminated Bui Vien Walking Street on Christmas Eve. Photo credit: Somil Gupta

Ben Thanh Market — Biggest Market in District 1

Last but not least, Ben Thanh Market is the biggest market in District 1, the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.

It was built around the 1910s and had experienced many years of war ordeal with many restorations. It is now considered the symbol and soul of Saigon.

The market area is bustling and splendid during Christmas and New Year. You can take a trip around Ben Thanh Market and enjoy food such as Goi Cuon, Che, and Banh Xeo for around 30k to 50k VND (very cheap compared to restaurants).

This is also the right place to purchase souvenirs for your friends and family.

The main entrance of Ben Thanh Market. Phots credit: Somil Gupta
The main entrance of Ben Thanh Market. Phots credit: Somil Gupta

Experience Café Culture in the City

Vietnam is very famous for its traditional food, especially its coffee. Keeping that in mind, we explored many cafes in Vietnamese cities during the holiday season, and what a wonderful experience it was.

So don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in the local coffee culture while in this beautiful country. Enjoying a sip of traditional Vietnamese coffee while soaking in the festive atmosphere is a must-do experience. Many cafes may even have special holiday-themed drinks or decorations, adding an extra touch to your holiday experience.

You can also find popular local cafes known for their Egg Coffee (I know egg coffee sounds weird, but believe me, try it, and you won’t regret it) and enjoy this delicious treat. Whether you like it warm and cozy or cold and refreshing (I suggest going for a hot one), this unique coffee will highlight your holiday food journey in Vietnam. I loved it.

I recommend you check out Little Hanoi Egg Coffee Cafe in Ho Chi Minh City to experience the famous Vietnamese Egg Coffee.

1. Season special drink from Café Amazon. | 2. Egg Coffee at Little Hanoi in Saigon. Photo credit: Somil Gupta
1. Season special drink from Café Amazon. | 2. Egg Coffee at Little Hanoi in Saigon. Photo credit: Somil Gupta

If you want to enjoy delicious food in a warm and festive atmosphere, consider making a reservation at one of the local restaurants.

You can enjoy many rustic and delectable Vietnamese foods there, such as pancakes, hot pots, spring rolls, and salads.

Pro tip: Try Michelin Star restaurants in Vietnam; you get to have world-class delicious food cheaply compared to other Michelin Star restaurants worldwide.

Decoration in a cafe in Ho Chi Minh City to write and hang Christmas wishes and free postcards as gifts.
Decoration in a cafe in Ho Chi Minh City to write and hang Christmas wishes and free postcards as gifts.

“Lễ Giáng Sinh” in Vietnam is a celebration that beautifully weaves the country’s rich culture with the universal joy of Christmas. From bustling city streets to serene countryside escapes, the holiday season takes on a special meaning in this beautiful country.

Read More: The most breathtaking countries to visit in Asia

Embrace the Christmas spirit in Vietnam, where traditions, festivities, and warm hospitality come together to create a truly magical experience.

Here are a few takeaways from my experience

With my friends on the Walking Train Steet. Photo by the Author.
With my friends on the Walking Train Steet. Photo by the Author.
  • [A Must] Attend and witness local celebrations: Immerse yourself in the local celebrations. Attend festive events, visit markets, and any unique traditions taking place during Christmas. You can find them everywhere, so be a part of it.
  • Experience local cuisine: While traveling to any foreign country, it’s essential to explore its native cuisine. So don’t miss the chance to enjoy Vietnamese holiday dishes; these can be found anywhere, from the streets you roam to the restaurants you dine in.
  • Speak a Little Vietnamese: While English is widely spoken in tourist areas, knowing a few basic Vietnamese phrases can go a long way. You can not believe the joy on someone’s face when you say “Merry Christmas” to them in Vietnamese.
  • Explore beyond touristy places: While popular destinations are a must-visit place if you are traveling to a new country, the off-beat places will show you the authentic charm of the country. (And you can learn something new in the process!)
  • Plan: December is a busy time for tourism, so booking your air ticket and hotel room in advance is a good idea, and you can save a lot of money.
I am covering for the friend who was taking the above photo :)
I am covering for the friend who was taking the above photo 🙂

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Till then, Sayonara! I wish you the best in your travel journey