Christmas Market at Tan Dinh Church

Christmas Market at Tan Dinh Church is a flashy experience for visitors in Vietnam who want to know how the word's biggest commercial holiday is tackled in Southeast Asia.

If you are familiar with District 1, then you have probably seen the flashy, pink Tan Dinh church at 289 Hai Ba Trung street there. The church actually dates back to the early 20th century and belongs to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City. The historical building is quite extravagant with its strong color scheme but during the Advent, that’s how the weeks of December before Christmas are called, the area next to the church turns into an even flashier, colorful Christmas wonderland. Next to the bright lights of that very market, the eye-piercing pink of Tan Dinh church turns into a cozy, relaxing background hue.

Well, there is not much going on with our traditional orange punch, mulled wine, cinnamon stars or sugar roasted almonds, but they sell cotton candy and a vast selection of Christmas tree decorations. I guess you can buy your plastic Christmas tree and all the tinsel, Christmas baubles and other festive ornaments there. Probably even one of these angel figures that annually get impaled on top of the tree.

It would not be Vietnam if the people wouldn’t set up speakers with deafening Christmas carols and other musical delights that turn your ears inside out. And it wouldn’t be Asia in the 21st century, if there wouldn’t be a great amount of kitschy and colorful LED frills competing with each other for the distracted visitor’s attention. Everything around you blinks and flickers and while for most of us a stroll through Tan Dinh Christmas market is a tightrope walk between amusement and nuisance, the flashing lights might be harmful for epileptics, so please take care.

Actually the most interesting of Christmas decorations nowadays are all created with LEDs. In Europe the tiny but bright and energy saving devices slowly climb the ranks of creative home improvement modules. Partially hidden in fantastic structures right out of the fairy forest, but usually white or in natural colors. Some LED designers create dimmable light bulbs that adjust to your mood and need to be strongly advertised to compete with hoarded traditional bulbs that were actually outlawed during the last years but still haunt the basements of rather conservative homeowners.

But in Asia, LEDs became instantly popular. Not because they save energy, no. Who cares about energy consumption when cheap electricity is produced not far away by the next nuclear power plant? The possibilities of creating flashy, colorful decorations that can be fixed to nearly everything is what inspired local businesses.

Thus, garlands in all colors imaginable wind around the plastic trees like manic serpents from the depths of a hell that only the combined effort of Lewis Carroll and Dante Alighieri could come up with. Blue LED icicles decorate the booths and threaten to pierce your mind with a message that points towards the 24th of December and the fact that it’s supposed to be colder than the actual 28°C. On top of Christmas trees throne stars that blink in patterns that obviously must have been programmed by inmates of some hidden asylum and the light jumps through the wavelengths of the visible spectrum as if haunted by the ever restless spirits of said programmers. I must say that I imagined the borders to the Realms of Chaos, as Michael Moorcock described them in “Elric At The End Of Time” appeared saner and more grounded than the bombardment of colors that one's mind is exposed at that Christmas market next to the pink church on Hai Ba Trung.

Well, I confess, that day I had a long day and all I wanted was to catch some sleep. Maybe that’s the actual reason why I remember the market the way I just described it.

One of these rapidly spinning LED balls that had been planted on a small fountain caught my attention in a firm grip and I think I owe my partner my life - or at least my sanity - because she pulled me away before my mind, trapped as it was in this maelstrom of light, went completely overboard. But even if this very Asian variant of our traditional Christmas markets is so far off the similar events held in my hometown, when I visited the place I suddenly started to miss my mug of spiced mead, the gingerbread and - believe it or not - the freezing cold that makes you drink said mulled wine faster than is good for you, just to order a new one.

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