The Skies Are White, If Nothing Else: Christmas in Hanoi!


Christmas is back in Hanoi!

Those creepy, hip swiveling robot Santas are playing their saxophones outside occasional pho joints and unexpected Christmas trees are popping up in lobbies and windows around town. At the overpriced expat grocery stores you can now buy the world’s tiniest Christmas puddings for the price of a three course meal and bottles of bubbly for far, far more than you’d rationally expect to pay. All of the competing expat-friendly sandwich joints are now touting their identikit turkey-stuffing-cranberry sandwiches, served with a tiny pot of lukewarm granulated gravy.

Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Asia.

Unlike Shanghai, no one has yet decorated their oversized fake Christmas tree with a dozen Mini Coopers, but there has still been a curiously earnest effort on the part of local shops to decorate (and to overcharge for decorations) for a holiday they haven’t quite looked into. Paper Street in the old quarter is bursting with tiny shops selling all the bling with great enthusiasm and no price tags (bargain hard!) and both locals and expats are happily stocking up on lights and wreaths and sparkly Santa faces and the like with about as much regard for tradition as your average westerner gives to Lunar New Year protocol.

Small details, like, say, what it’s all about or how you celebrate it or when it actually is are essentially irrelevant in the face of the awesomeness of those shiny lights, tinsel, shitloads of Santas and glittery tall fake trees and all the accouterments of decor.

Which is fine with me.

We have decorated the flat, with our tiny stash of half-assed decorations from last year: a tiny pre-decorated tree that had been crunched up in storage all year and needed quite a bit of coaxing to resemble a tree again, a long string of remarkably bright and blinky LED lights woven around the livingroom window frame, and a rope ladder triptych of Santas climbing down from the curtain rod.

Young Thwack, now nearly two years old and suddenly bursting with all of the words that had been burbling up inside his baby brain until recently, encountered Santa for the first time last weekend at the gringo-heavy Syrena shopping centre in gringo-tastic Tay Ho. Having recently discovered a great passion for Peter Rabbit and rabbits in general, he logically mistook the multiple Santas decorating the front doors of the mini-mall for bearded old Farmer McGregor (he who went after poor Peter Rabbit with a rake).

He is now aware of the existence of a very famous (and possibly dangerous) farmer named Santa who, as I explained,  brings a big bag of vegetables to people once a year. If you are good, you get some really nice carrots and maybe (maybe!) some broccoli.

He’s like one of those urban organic veggie box schemes, except much more sporadic in his delivery schedule.

To contribute to this overall festive vibe, I’ve turned on the Accuradio Classic Christmas channel in my classrooms, forcing my students to write critical essays to the tune of Elvis’ Blue Christmas and Ella Fitzgerald’s  Let It Snow, accompanied by a YouTube background scene of a full-screen roaring log fire or snowy nature scenes projected onto the whiteboard.

They are bemused but tolerant.

Now to see if I can make butter tarts and shortbread in our ridiculous toaster oven…

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.