Christmas carols echo from churches and twinkling lights illuminate main streets and shopping centres. With Christmas right around the corner, many families in Hanoi are rushing to celebrate the festive season.

Despite Christmas celebrations not being a tradition for most of the Hanoians, the Western-originated festival has become more popular, particularly among young people, in Vietnam.

Arriving home with several shopping bags, Lien Huong - a PR manager at a local bank in Hanoi, said she spent almost a half day purchasing baubles, Christmas tree decorations and other holiday items.

"House decorations are my hobby, so I definitely can't miss this occasion to add some decorating ideas for my house. The tree was set up by my husband a few days ago. My job now is to decorate it, with the assistance of my children," she said.

Huong spent more than four years living in Sydney with her husband, while he pursued a PhD, and the Hanoi-born woman remembers how wonderful the Sydney Christmas was. She recalled that it was totally different from her earlier thoughts about Christmas, which revolved around pine trees, Santa Claus and snow.

"In Sydney, local people and tourists flocked to the beach to celebrate the holiday, wearing red Santa hats or red swim wear. Some people erected small Christmas trees on the sand and sunbathed by the trees. Others dressed up as Santa Claus while surfing. It was extremely fun," Huong said.

"It is also the first time I experienced a +real+ Christmas."

After returning to Vietnam in 2007, her family continued celebrating Christmas, despite neither she nor her husband being Christian.

Without eating roasted turkey and drinking mulled wine, many people only want a plastic tree for the holiday.

Phuong Ha, a housewife, said this year she decided to purchase a 2m hight Christmas tree, along with many decorations, bringing joy to her two children, aged five and three.

"I didn't buy a Christmas tree when my children were toddlers. This year, they are grown up enough and are able to realise everything. I could see the joy in my daughters when they were allowed to hang decorations on the tree," she said.

For office employee Bich Ngoc, Christmas is a chance for parents to reward children with gifts.

"My children have no idea about the meaning of Christmas, but they know it is the time when they can receive some surprises – a Christmas tree and toys."

In Vietnam, Christmas is also a chance for young people to enjoy a good time with friends.

"Although none of us know exactly what the meaning and origin of Christmas is, but we like it. We grab this chance to give gifts to our best friends and boy or girlfriends," teenager Thuy Dung said while taking photos with her friends outside a luxury five-star hotel, which has been decorated with thousands of lights.

Business fortune

Since the end of last month, Hang Ma street in the Old Quarters has been filled with colours of thousands of ornaments and other items, offering local people some very early Christmas experiences.

At any shops along the 500m street, people can find items for their Christmas-themed decorations: pine trees, sponge snowmen, artificial snow flakes, baubles, tartan ribbons and wrapping paper.

According to a shopowner, Do Thi Hong Thuy, who has run her family's shop for more than 20 years, the business selling Christmas merchandise boomed four years ago. "Before that time, there were only some shops on the street offering Christmas items, but now you can't find any shop that doesn't sell Christmas-themed items. It shows the increasing demand of Vietnamese people to celebrate the festive season."

An encouraging sign is that this year many made-in-Vietnam products have dominated the market. "Most of these products, which are as sophisticated and beautiful as imported ones, have been made in private workshops in Ho Chi Minh City," Thuy said.

She also revealed that 50 percent of her clients are local residents, while the rest are from northern provinces.-VNA