Phan Hoang Thu Anh, a third-grade student at the Vietnam-Australia International School, began crying when she saw the children holding up signs reading "We need food", "We need water" and "We need help".

"I wanted to give away my best items to my friends in the Philippines," Anh said after watching a video about Typhoon Haiyan, which has left 1 million children homeless.

Deeply affected by the images of the children, Anh and her classmates decided to give away their most beautiful clothes and shoes to their school's Philippines Donation Drive.

"Dear Santa, I don't need any gift from you. I hope you visit and present food, water and other presents to my friends in the Philippines. They need you," Anh wrote in her letter to Santa.

Her teachers were behind the programme, which emphasises the need to give rather than receive. "The drive includes 1,000 students on our campus. We hope the students think more about disadvantaged children," Phan Thi Ngoc Anh, Anh's core teacher, said.

"We have encouraged our students to take part in charity activities by themselves, not through adults," she added. "We believe this improves both their mental and living skills."

The programme has won support from all the parents, who want to develop their children both spiritually and emotionally. "When Anh told us she wanted to present her money and clothes to Filipino friends, we supported her at once," Anh's father, Phan To Hong Hai, said.

Besides the students at the international school, other children around town are also doing good deeds by playing Santa to underprivileged children.

Many of them are taking part in programmes launched early this month by the Vietnam Youth Association, the Ho Chi Minh City Women's Association, and the Cultural House for Young People.

Gifts, scholarships and charity houses are being donated to children and indigent women within the framework of the programmes.

As part of the holiday season, social workers have visited outlying Binh Chanh, Hoc Mon and Thu Duc districts, providing families with mosquito nets, blankets, books and radio sets donated by local and foreign benefactors.

"We want Christmas to be about giving, and making kids happy and comfortable," Tran Thanh Binh of the Vietnam Youth Association said.

Binh and his colleagues also plan to visit shelters and open houses on Christmas Eve dressed as Santas who will sing and offer meals to children.

About 160 children who have no homes or are disabled have already taken part in Christmas parties at the Hoang Mai Shelter and Tam Binh Centre in Go Vap and Thu Duc districts, respectively.

The meals were prepared by the Lotte Legend Hotel Saigon and Sheraton Saigon Hotel, and toys and candies were handed out. Songs and games were also part of the activities.

While charitable events are always part of the Christmas celebrations, the city has also continued to highlight the gaiety of the season by decorating the streets with glittering lights and millions of flowers.

Thousands of lights and lanterns are strung along downtown streets like Dong Khoi, Nguyen Hue and Le Loi, as well as major public areas like Notre Dame Cathedral.

Dozens of seasonal activities, including art exhibitions and circus and music shows are being organised in downtown areas.

"This year has been very difficult for migrant workers. We have to take care of our children, so we have no money for shopping and entertainment," said Nguyen Van Son, father of a seven-year-old daughter and a three-year-old boy, said.

He and his wife toured Dong Khoi street on December 22, and spent 15,000 VND on balloons from a dealer in a clown costume. "For me, it's enough for a merry Christmas," he said as he took photos of his children with his cellphone.

Another child, Nguyen Thi Thuy Dung, 9, of Binh Chanh district, was downtown to enjoy the lights, too. Hugging her brother, she said: "I love to walk around and see people's faces in the lights. My mom promised us she would buy a small Yule log to enjoy later at home. I love Christmas."

Public festivals

As in previous years, local authorities will also organise fireworks shows in Districts 2 and 11 on New Year's Eve.

During the festival week, dozens of comedy, music and song performances will be held for free in industrial parks and export and processing zones. Dam Sen, one of the city's biggest parks located in District 11, will stage entertainment shows during the week.

The special week, called Noel Tung Bung- Don Chao Nam Moi 2014 (Joyful Christmas, Welcome to a Happy New Year), will start on December 24, offering music, dance, comedy, circus and puppet shows.

Shopping centres are also having special sales, with Vincom Centre, Diamond Plaza and Crescent Mall in Districts 1 and 7 beginning promotions last week on ornaments, consumer goods, food and entertainment.

Restaurants and hotels are also adding cakes, candies and special menus for the holiday. Hotel Equatorial, for example, will have the traditional stuffed turkey with carrots, roasted potatoes and green beans, and sauce. At InterContinental Asiana Saigon, a Christmas choir performance will take place at 8pm on Christmas Eve.

Roasted turkey, honeyed ham and duck, as well as lobsters, mussels and oysters, will be on offer. Bartenders and DJs, like many others in town, will stage a dazzling New Year's Countdown Party.

For cooler temperatures, many holiday revellers will travel to Da Lat, a resort in the Central Highland province of Lam Dong famous for its flowers and tea farms. Although its annual Festival of Flowers will open on December 27, many locals and expatriates have decided to go earlier to enjoy the Christmas holiday.

The festival to celebrate the 120th founding anniversary of the city will be the biggest ever with many cultural activities.

"My family and I are going to Da Lat instead of staying at home in the hot and noisy atmosphere," said Don Nguyen, an overseas Vietnamese visitor from California, who has arrived to celebrate the New Year. "I hope a good year is coming to all people," he said.-VNA