Dana Filek-Gibson offers her best gift-giving advice.
Gearing up for the holidays
I have never been one for the holidays. The pressure of embodying the Christmas spirit always gets to me, what with the onslaught of children in shopping malls and Kenny G playing in every Starbucks across the world. As a December baby, I never understood why my family celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ — a person we’d never met — with such crazed enthusiasm, when my own entrance into the world was commemorated with cake and a handful of gifts, which later doubled as Christmas presents. Perhaps it is for this reason that I am now incapable of shopping for other people. I see something in a store, and I never think, “So-and-so would love this.” Instead, I think, “MINE.” You could say I struggle with the act of giving gifts.
Unless, of course, I’m in Vietnam. The holiday I, for all of my life, have associated with ugly sweaters and re-gifted fruitcake is another story altogether when you live in Saigon. Throughout the city workers rush to and fro, building baby-less nativity scenes full of Christmas giraffes. Children don red velvet pajama sets lined with cotton, running around like so many wide-eyed miniature Santa Clauses. The frequency with which you hear Abba’s ‘Happy New Year’ is quadrupled. And when it comes to Christmas presents for the family at home, you possess the ultimate trump card in the game of Who-Gives-the-Best-Gifts.
Why? Because it is damn-near guaranteed that anything you purchase, interesting or not, will merit some degree of fascination because it came from Vietnam. Every time my mother’s face appears on Skype, I am reminded to “get another pair of those Hugh Hefner pajamas” — a set of the cheap, faux-silk PJs they sell at Ben Thanh Market — for my five-year-old cousin. They are not special, they are not even unique, they just are mass-produced baby clothes. But to my relatives at home they are priceless. If you, too, are struggling with the thought of buying things for other people, fear not. I have assembled below four of Vietnam’s hottest holiday gifts, in no particular order, for your perusal.
Though they are to clothing shops what oxygen is NOT to Saigon, the nonsensical English-language T-shirts you see everywhere are hard to come by in your home country. This makes sense; after all, who else would think to put such catchphrases as “Arrogant Soaring”, or my personal favourite, “Herpes Schmerpes” on a T-shirt? Send one of these home for the holidays, and you will open your email one January morning to a photo of your loved ones beaming, arm-in-arm, with “Shit is Shit” emblazoned on their chests.
There’s a good chance that nobody at home has ever heard of ear candles. Thankfully, life in Vietnam has taught you plenty of valuable lessons, including the many varied ways in which the Vietnamese remove wax from their ears. You have a unique opportunity in this gift not only to introduce people to something new, but also to act like you invented it. Be prepared, however, that for the rest of your life you will be considered the foremost authority on ear cleaning to at least one other person.
As a child, I used to watch my mother sit in the basement at Christmastime, stuffing framed copies of my school photo into gift bags for our relatives. Those poor people had to feign gratitude as they plucked my bug-eyed, acne-ridden face from the tissue paper on Christmas morning. Now, a generation later, it’s my turn — and yours. Make an appointment at your local photo studio as soon as possible. You know you want to.
Two words: weasel coffee. Do not explain what this means before the first cup.
Follow these suggestions, and I can guarantee that you will either a) triumph over all in the ongoing competition for the most coveted Christmas gifts, or b) be formally asked never to go holiday shopping again. Either way, you can rest assured that, when you tuck in to your four-billion-dong dinner at the Sheraton on Christmas Eve, you’ve done you’re very best to bring the true spirit of Vietnamese Christmas to the world.