The Christmas songs being played by the neighbor are surreal at best and bordering to a cacophony of annoying noise at worst. However, in spite of this, like all other symbols associated with Christmas, they never fail to make me feel nostalgic about the season. This is my first Christmas outside the country, something that more than ten per cent of the Filipino population accept as an ordinary part of their lives as foreign workers, professionals, ex-pats, or in my case and some others, as students.
Just fifteen days to go before that day, shops in Hanoi are already displaying plastic Christmas trees complete with all the trimming, glittering balls, and fake snow. The cool breeze outside adds to the festive atmosphere except that Christmas here is celebrated as a matter of compulsion. Anything western is marketable, Christmas being one of them, causing the local stores to take advantage of the opportunity. I am yet to see a nativity scene, but understanding that most Vietnamese are Buddhist or practice ancestor worship, the Christian origin of Christmas is already lost in translation here.
I intended to attend a mass for the Day of the Ascension yesterday at the Parish of Saint Joseph in Hoan Kiem District, but my friend’s mother warned me that the policemen were deployed to secure the area since there has been animosity between the city government and the Catholic Church here because of a land dispute that originated when the French left Vietnam during the 50s. So I ended up doing something else. Religion, as how people in the west see it, does not exist in Vietnam, or if it does it is practiced by a minority, most people are either atheists of worship their dead ancestors. So saying that Vietnamese do not practice religion is false, and the presence of twinkling lights, mistletoes, and Santa Clauses does not mean they’re believers of Christianity either.
Christmas here, is not the Christmas in the Philippines as much as the Filipino way of celebrating the birth of the Savior differs from that in Europe. Sometimes I ask how the eight million Filipinos spread all over the world managed to think of the 25th of December as an ordinary day or celebrating Christmas detached from it religious origin or in a non-traditional way.
During my first day studying the Vietnamese language, the first thing I noticed in the department head’s office is a paper replica of a Christmas tree pasted on the wall, it was in May. That thing stays there until this time. I wonder when the janitor will decide to remove it. Probably when it’s too shabby as to be devoid of any semblance with a tree.
For now, I’m bracing my self for my saddest Christmas to date and embracing the fact that I’ll have Christmases similar to this one in the future.