This is the question I’ve been alternately dreading and dodging since I began planning this trip two years ago.
I mean, the answer is obvious: of course Santa comes to Vietnam. I’m not going to impose a trip like this on my kids—taking them to the other side of the world, away from their friends, family, school and everything familiar for six months—and then tell them that on top of all that, Santa will just be giving us a miss this year.
But the question remains: exactly how will we celebrate Christmas, and how will we keep the Santa myth going despite the obvious obstacles? Complicating the answer is the fact that we’re not sure where we’re going to be, other than “somewhere in Vietnam” (we’re in Cambodia at the moment), nor do we know whom we may be spending the occasion with. Here are some of the main obstacles we’ve considered:
It certainly isn’t going to be a white Christmas.
There will be no traditional foods, and no way to make any.
There will be no family members, and possibly no friends.
There is nowhere for us to store or hide gifts, since we’re living out of backpacks that are already stuffed to the gills with necessary clothes and travel gear.
At home we eschew church (yes, even on Christmas Eve), but I imagine this year we may go looking for one, just to inject some much-needed ceremony and tradition into the day. We’ll also need to be flexible in our interpretations of traditions: stir-fried chicken for dinner instead of turkey, banana fritters instead of chocolate log, and we can always leave out some sticky coconut rice balls and sweet coffee for Santa.
The good news is that if online reports are accurate, Christmas is actually one of Vietnam’s four most important festivals. I’ve also read that children in Vietnam believe in Santa Claus, and put their shoes in front of their doors on Christmas Eve, expecting to find them filled with treats in the morning. This leads me to be optimistic about our odds of finding Christmas decorations, treats, trinkets and trifles in shops as Christmas approaches.
Meanwhile, we’re not entirely without resources:
We’re carrying Christmas stockings the kids haven’t seen yet, squirreled away in the bottoms of our backpacks.
We’re making use of the poste restants service at the general post office in the town we’ll be visiting just before Christmas. My sister-in-law has offered to ship a package to that GPO containing a few of the kids’ favourite books, one or two very Canadian toys, gift wrap, and candy canes.
We are travelling with a laptop and a playlist of Christmas songs in our iTunes library.
In Bangkok, we went stealth shopping to pick out Lego, the one toy both kids enjoy and miss. (We wrestled into the overstuffed backpack).
The rest of the gifts will be items we can pick up closer to the date, such as jewellery, silk scarves and hairbands for Chloe and playing cards, Thai boxing shorts and a carved Buddha figure for Ciaran.
For our Christmas tree, our plan is to use the 25 photos we brought along of friends and family. We’ll stick them to the wall of our hotel room in the shape of a Christmas tree, and the gifts will be under that spot in the morning.
We can also decorate our hotel room with snowflake cut-outs and other low-tech crafts, possibly overlaying some of the traditional motifs with Asian themes for fun.
And finally, of course, we’ll take some cues from local traditions. If Christmas is Vietnam’s fourth biggest celebration, there’s bound to be some buzz about it no matter where we are.
Patti Ryan is an Ottawa-based freelance writer, SavvyMom contributor, and mother of two children aged 7 and 10. In August 2009, she packed up her house and hit the road with her family for a six-month backpacking trip around southeast Asia and India. Patti and her family finally returned home earlier this month, and have been busy settling back into their work and school routines. While away, she kept a blog of her family travels at Rymans at Large.