Dressing up as Santa in Vietnam

Finding Some Christmas Cheer in Vietnam

Being away from home at Christmas time is hard. I’m surprised by how tough it feels because when we lived in England, Christmas wasn’t a big thing for me. In fact, I hated the present-buying culture and although I’d usually have about a week off from work, the stress of driving around the country squeezing in visits to our scattered family usually left me tired and deflated come January. However, after battling through our second Christmas overseas I’m determined to make sure we’re back home to celebrate next year.

Christmas Class in Vietnam

Christmas with my class here in Hanoi

Last year we spent our first Christmas abroad here in Vietnam, up in the pine-covered hills of Dalat. I feel vastly different from the person I was then: a backpacker constantly on the move with months of new destinations and unfamiliar roads stretched out in front of me. Back then, experiencing a foreign Christmas was novel. Now I feel rooted down here in Hanoi, I have a job and an apartment, a wardrobe full of clothes and a kitchen to cook food in. Life here is no longer alien and strange, it feels normal and routine but still, throughout the festive season I’ve felt pangs of homesickness.

Christmas in London

Our last Christmas in London two years ago

I miss the dark frosty mornings in the UK, colourful decorations and trees strung with fairy lights. I miss the sense of anticipation and even the awful dread of the Christmas Work-Do. I miss meeting friends for drinks in London where the pubs are packed, Christmas tunes are playing and lights sparkle everywhere as people hurry through the streets late into the evening on present-buying missions. I miss those hectic visits to relatives, cold walks with my family’s dogs and Christmas dinners followed by Eastenders and Doctor Who Christmas specials on TV. Oh my god, I miss the food. Roast dinners and mince pies, Christmas puddings, cakes, crackers and cheese and that obligatory tin of Cadbury’s Roses.

Christmas Cards and Costumes

My nephew in his elf suit, dressing up as Santa at work and a card from a student

Searching for Christmas Cheer in Vietnam

By contrast, Christmas in Vietnam feels strange and muted.  The weather has cooled off but it’s not freezing. There are lights hanging in the malls and decorations being sold in the Old Quarter; there was even a fireworks display on Christmas Eve that we missed because we were so shattered after getting home from work at 9pm. Schools are still open on the 25th December so we spent the day and evening teaching as usual but we’ve tried to get into the Christmas spirit.

This Christmas in Hanoi, Vietnam

This Christmas in Hanoi, Vietnam

We sung Christmas songs with our classes and dressed up as Santa to hand out gifts. We tracked down some expensive jars of Mincemeat from a western grocery store and cooked up batches of mince pies in our tiny electric oven. We found a small Christmas market to visit at the Hanoi Social Club and we sat on the roof terrace drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate, Christmas songs playing in the background. We Skyped our families and ahhed over pictures of my baby nephew wearing an elf suit and we wished we were there. It’s at this time of year that our desire to travel feels like a sacrifice.

Still, as this Christmas marks the end of another year filled with adventure, I’m so grateful for everything we’ve experienced and achieved since that Christmas in Dalat last year. Back then I never would have guessed that in a years’ time I’d be teaching in Vietnam, that our savings account would be filling up so nicely or that our plans for the future would take us back to the UK, over to America and beyond. Merry Christmas everyone, here’s to a new year of adventures!

Homemade Mince Pies

Homemade mince pies

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17 Comments
  • Helen
    Posted at 12:02h, 27 December Reply

    I felt pangs of homesickness too for the first time because of Christmas, which like you I’m not usually fussed about in the UK. Felt weird being far away from home and I even missed the cold! Getting over it now, getting ourselves back into traveller mode and remembering why we are doing this and not to mope!

    • Amy
      Posted at 15:28h, 27 December Reply

      Sounds like a good plan Helen. Christmas is definitely a hard time to be away from home, I think next year we will definitely make sure we’re back home to celebrate.

  • Kate
    Posted at 18:38h, 27 December Reply

    Almost every year has been somewhere different for our family and yes, at times we have been homesick. But it’s amazing how you come to realize that many of the “weird’ expat activities go on to become YOUR family traditions. Even if you were in the UK, you would be forging your own couple/family things and that is important. Embrace things like Christmas Eve pho — we actually searched it out and ate Vietnamese food on Christmas Eve as we are missing S.E. Asia this year while “stuck” in Dubai:) But it also helps to spend time planning when you will next be “home” during those bouts of homesickness. Finding cheapo tickets and book marking them helps:)

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:31h, 28 December Reply

      I agree Kate, it does help to make travel plans when you’re feeling homesick; we’re looking forward to our summer in the UK and the flights are already booked! More immediately, we’re taking a mini-break on Cat Ba Island next week, can’t wait! Merry Christmas to you guys in Dubai 🙂

  • Catherine
    Posted at 19:37h, 27 December Reply

    Glad to hear you managed to find a little bit of Christmas spirit over in Vietnam 🙂 I could not imagine working on Christmas Day – I guess it was probably a good distraction from homesickness though!

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:32h, 28 December Reply

      It was the first time we’ve worked on Christmas day Catherine and it was very strange! Merry Christmas 🙂

  • Emily
    Posted at 03:34h, 28 December Reply

    I hear you on missing out on family and friends back ‘home for the holidays’. At the same time we are so lucky to live in a world with Skype, making those distances not seem as far away.

    I love the video – I don’t think anyone was NOT bouncing around 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:34h, 28 December Reply

      Try Emily, I don’t know how we’d cope without Skype. My Grade 3 class in the video is one of the loudest and hyperactive I teach, they are like that non-stop 🙂

  • Stefan Arestis
    Posted at 06:13h, 28 December Reply

    Merry Christmas from Bangkok. This is our first Christmas together (!) but away from our families.

    It’s weird spending it in a Buddhist country where Xmas day is just another working day.

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:37h, 28 December Reply

      Merry Christmas! How lovely that you get to spend it together and in such an awesome country too – enjoy!

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 21:01h, 28 December Reply

    Merry Christmas! Your home made mince pies look yummy, good effort on finding some Christmas fun in Vietnam.

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:50h, 29 December Reply

      Merry Christmas Gilda and Happy New Year! The mince pies were awesome but next year we plan to be back in England for Christmas so we can enjoy it properly.

  • Jo (The Blonde)
    Posted at 05:34h, 29 December Reply

    I felt exactly the same here, in Thailand. I always loved Christmas. Last year I spent it in Bali, and just like you I was a backpacker and everything was new to me. Now, after settling down here, I was overwhelmed by homesickness. I really do want to go back home next year.

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:45h, 29 December Reply

      Hi Jo, thanks for commenting; I’m glad we’re not the only ones who feel homesick. Happy New Year!

  • Katie
    Posted at 09:10h, 29 December Reply

    Merry Christmas guys!

    It is quite strange being away for Christmas… I’m glad Asia is different enough that it didn’t make me homesick for the UK – Christmas is a huge deal in my family and we have so many little rituals that I love doing so I was dreading being away, but actually it just didn’t feel real. I think I might have been in denial?! I did demand a nose in the fridge via Skype though so I could see all the festive goodies! I’m very jealous of your home made mince pies!

    Katie x

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:56h, 30 December Reply

      Merry Christmas Katie! I love the fact that you had a nose in the fridge, although that must have been a bit like torture too 🙂 I so miss the Christmas food from home but the mince pies made up for it a bit.

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