Thursday, December 15, 2005

The 36-hour Christmas

Never a believer, but happily a receiver, Teddy de Burca Jnr. feels right at home with the short and sweet Vietnamese Christmas

Even when I was a knee high to a grasshopper I never believed in Santa Claus. My older brother took me aside and broke it too me bluntly, before telling me where the presents were hidden by our charlatan parents.
Somehow, my brother had been a non-believer of universal creed since the day he was born. Famously, he stood up in junior infants, aged 5, and coldly announced to his peers there was no such thing as God, Santa or the Loch Ness Monster before dismissing the class.

A mortified parent phoned my father, later that evening, and told him she didn’t mind so much about the other two but asked could my agnostic brother be told to lay off Santa. Somewhere a mum and dad were obviously left with an inconsolable child robbed of their true religion – the cult of gift giving Santa Claus.

Now that the Loch Ness Monster has been scientifically discredited, Santa it seems is even further ahead in the polls for Christmas popularity. The festival has become more universally celebrated and as a result has strayed far from its original plot line. Less Bethlehem babes in a manger, more wrapped presents under a Christmas tree. In multicultural societies it’s a festival to be celebrated by all religions, these days, even Judaism. And why not? It’s a national holiday with a universally appealing concept – no one has to work, everyone gets a present, eats until they’re stuffed, before watching The Raiders of the Lost Ark, or these days more likely a stack of DVDs, while slumped across the couch.

In America, where admittedly political correctness has always shot for outer space, the holiday is already being repackaged. In Wal-Mart there are no Christmas trees, just holiday trees; there are no Christmas presents, it’s just a holiday shop. The employees are not even allowed to say Merry Christmas lest they offend some sensitive soul of another creed.

Back in sunny Ireland, no matter what you believe, the biggest gripes people have are Christmas starting too early, office parties, the melee in every shop, the twee carols and the never-ending obligation to drink until drunk. Everyone turns into a bit of a scrooge, cursing at the commercialisation and forced tomfoolery. It is much more commonly referred to as silly season. And for good reason.

Which is why I love Christmas in Vietnam – with the exception of missing my family back home, not to mention my mother’s turkey stuffing and Teddy senior cracking out the good stuff. There is no office party, Christmas only lasts half a night and a day, (the Vietnamese only really celebrate Christmas Eve, I suspect looking at it as a sort of New Year’s Eve with less fireworks and more red hats). I can shop in the same chaotic streets I shop in every day. Carols are thankfully confined to very specific designated areas.

For me the “holiday” has been reduced to its core attractions: spending a day relaxing with friends, partners or family, toasting and dining to your heart’s content. Giving presents. Getting presents. Basking in the warm glow of contentment and drunkenness safe in the knowledge that it’s Christmas so you have nowhere to go.

And it doesn’t matter what you eat – in five years of Vietnam I’ve had vegetarian lasagne, bia hoi hot pot, roast duck, a slap up in an Italian restaurant and green curry on a Thai beach for my Christmas dinner.

So chuc mung Giang sinh dear readers: may you celebrate this Christmas in Vietnam with the holy triumvirate of eating, drinking and merry-making, whatever way you want. Just watch out for the traffic on the way home. It’s silly season out there, too, in it’s own spcecial way.


guile said...

nice, cozy place you got here :)..

Venitha said...

Awww... this sounds lovely. Merry Christmas to you!

michaelkelly Kelly said...

A friend of mine was telling me today that his 11 year old demanded to know the truth about the man in red yesterday. His chief concern was that when he has his own children he won't know whether to buy them presents or not. This christmas it seems, he went all Columbo, and following up clues, he eventually assembled the folks in one room to present the evidence, and extract the truth. He's a lovely little weirdo named Cian.
Great stuff, by the way.