Ring in the Holidays with Peruvian and Vietnamese Christmas Traditions

1 year ago Just For Fun, Local Lore

The holiday season is upon us once again and this year, it truly feels like a cause for celebration. After two years clouded by the pandemic, we’ve finally made it through into a brand new normal. The world has changed a great deal, but as 2022 draws to a close, we’re reminded of some constants which always remain by our side – traditions, being one of them. Christmas is celebrated in unique ways around the world, inspired by local cultures and beliefs. Here’s a look at some of the traditions you might witness while sailing with us in December.


Vietnamese Christmas Traditions

It might come as a surprise, but Christmas celebrations are very common in Vietnam, as well as other countries in Southeast Asia. Inspired by Western culture, hotels and shopping malls are often decked out in festive decor in major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. 


In the city center, roads are usually blocked off for the night, giving way for people to gather, dine, and drink at the local bars and restaurants. This is a popular way to celebrate, especially among younger people.  


Since the country used to be a French colony, the Vietnamese way of celebrating Christmas draws influence from its colonial past. Catholic churches in the region have nativity crib scenes, often with life-sized statues of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. These scenes can also be seen in front of some houses, spreading the Christmas spirit around the neighborhood. 



Christmas Eve is usually denoted by a special meal called reveillon, which refers to a long dinner held after midnight. In France, this meal often comprises luxurious food such as lobster, oysters, and turkey with chestnuts. Affluent families in Vietnam are able to follow the traditional as is, however, others may use local delicacies as substitutes instead. Dinner is usually capped off with a bûche de Noël – a chocolate cake in the shape of a log – for dessert. 


In the past, gifting wasn’t a common part of Christmas celebrations in Vietnam. However, this tradition has become more popular in recent times. Unlike the commonly known Santa Claus – who is said to arrive via a flying sleigh and climb through house chimneys – the Vietnamese Santa Claus operates a bit differently. Called Ông già Noel,the Vietnamese Santa Claus uses a motorbike as his vehicle of choice and is hired by parents to hand-deliver gifts to their children.



Even though Christmas is no longer a national holiday, it remains one of the four main religious festivals celebrated in Vietnam.  


Aqua Mekong sails between Phnom Penh (in Cambodia) and Ho Chi Minh during the holiday season. Plan your trip today for a first-hand glance at Christmas in Vietnam!


Traditional Peruvian Christmas Traditions

Over in South America, celebrating Christmas has an entirely different meaning. A Peruvian Christmas has similarities to its United-States-counterpart, however, the local influences – derived from centuries of culture and heritage – are more than apparent. 


Christmas traditions in Peru date back to the 1500s, when the country was first colonized by the Spanish. For the longest time, the festival was seen as a highly religious affair, however it has become more accommodative today. 



In the days leading up to Christmas, Peruvians celebrate Chocolatada Navideña. This is a unique tradition wherein locals give out hot chocolate, bread, and gifts at schools, churches, and among their community. Companies and municipal governments participate in this tradition too, using the opportunity to empower disadvantaged groups and help them feel the holiday spirit too. 


Instead of Christmas trees, Peruvians decorate using retables. These are a form of folk art which depict religious events using paintings and wood carvings. Reindeer decorations are replaced by llamas and alpacas – animals which are more commonly spotted in Peru.  


Commonly referred to as Noche Buena, Christmas Eve is the primary day of celebration for Peruvians. Many attend a church service known as Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass) at 10PM, before returning home to exchange gifts and enjoy a large turkey dinner, which often comes accompanied with Peruvian delicacies. Picarones and Empanadas de globo are two dishes which represent the local palate at the dining table. 




Much like New Year’s Day, it’s common for Peruvians to countdown the seconds to Christmas and wish each other ‘Feliz Navidad’ once the clock strikes 12. Beyond midnight, the celebrations continue over champagne or hot chocolate. People often gather in the streets or the city center to meet their friends and family. Fireworks are a common sighting at a Peruvian Christmas too. 


After a night of partying, Christmas Day usually gets off to a late start in Peru. This tends to be a more relaxed affair where most people spend time with their families, finishing off leftovers from the night before. 


Enjoy a Peruvian Christmas with a December sailing aboard Aqua Nera or Aria Amazon. While visiting local villages and the town of Iquitos, you’ll be able to get a feel of the holiday spirit for yourself!


Plan ahead with our 3-, 4- and 7-night itineraries aboard the Aqua Mekong and Aqua Nera