Thailand is a Buddhist country. But that doesn’t stop us from joining in the commercial spirit of Christmas!
Santa at every mall. On every television channel. Christmas decoration and trees everywhere. Not all is lost though as you’d spot a few nativity scenes here and there at the local Catholic and Christian schools.
After all, the whole city–and country–has the lights up to celebrate the King’s birthday earlier in the month anyway, we might as well just make it Christmas lights and leave them up until new year!
And more importantly, we DO give gifts. Not for Christmas, but for New Year. You get new items to start the new year right!
Christmas was a huge deal for my household back then. My mom had a Christmas tree and ornaments from when she and dad were living in the U.S. She’d pull that out and decorated it for us. Eventually, at my request, she also found us some Christmas stockings to be hung on our brick wall. We would write letters to Santa and taped them to that same wall, beneath our stockings. And then we waited.
Yes. I *ahem* believe in Santa Claus. We’d wake up on Christmas day with presents by our beds. Although, when dad told me Santa got into the house through the kitchen ventilation system because we don’t have chimney, I was a little concern for Santa’s safety.
My brothers and I all went to Christian/Catholic private schools, so we did know the religious background. Plus, we got Christmas day off while most of the city were in session! On Christmas eve, our schools had half-day. What my brothers’ school and my school did were different I think, but generally the same.
Beginning on the 1st of December, each of the 3 classrooms of my grade would be at war to win the classroom decorating contest. We have this massive “bulletin board” at the back of the classroom which we decorated with different themes through out the year. For Christmas, it was a major competition that get more intersting each year as each of the classrooms in all the grades try to out do each other.
From what I’ve remembered, we’ve done up the nativity scenes in mini paper cranes and later mini paper stars using old magazines for paper, dyed rice and dried pastas. The ones that stood out are colored mirror mosaic–expensive but worth every satang! (Oh yes, if you walked away without a cut on your hands, you weren’t participating enough!) And the rotating panels deal. It was an idea by a girl who is now working for an international ad agency, so go figure with the exceedingly creative edge. Her dad helped us constructed and mounted this contraption with 3 facades, so you can pull the string and change the scenes.
Ahh…the good ol’ days!
Anyhoo. All the hard work and mosquito-laden late evenings at school would be judged on Christmas Eve festivity. We’d go in with presents for our friends and our teachers, and a potluck lunch item. We’d have a school assembly where there would be the nativity play (which I would be in one way or the other since kindergarten), and singing of carols. Then the Buddhist kids would go back to class for homeroom for another hour while the Catholic kids and teachers went to mass in the auditorium. Once they were out, around 11 or so, we had a party in our classroom. School would be out by 12:30. And the next day, we could go do whatever we want with no crowd whatsoever!
We got to do all that while most students were in class. One of the many reasons why Christmas is one of my favorite times of year!
Not to mention that I LOVE Christmas music. 🙂
Oh yes, our school would have a nativity scene all lit up for the public to see as well. Nowadays though I don’t know how they’d do that with the Skytrain over head and all.
Yes, the whole city is all lit up pretty like. When I was home during this time in 2003, we got to walk around my neighborhood, the smack dab pit of the Big Mango, and checked out the lights spectacular at the Four Seasons on Rajadamri road.
My dad took us through the dark and meandering backstreet from Soi Langsuan and we emerged out in the street between the Four Seasons and Peninsula Plaza. It was like coming out of the dank concrete jungle that opened into the North Pole. Sans snow. Add LOTS of light bulbs.
That whole block was packed with people coming out to see the lights. I mean, we could barely get any good pictures taken without other people lurking right behind us!
Street venders of all shapes and sizes managed to have their merchandizes out on display on that very same narrow sidewalk. Actually, they lined up all the way back to the Erawan shrine. From head bands that blink (sorry, I’ll stick with my elf hat), tin robot toy, to hand made ostrich marionettes. We had quite an interesting time trying to get some good shots, trying not to step on people or stumble over street vendors.
We looped back up Rajadamri Road toward the Ploenchit Road to look at the lights at the Central World Plaza and pay our respect to the Erawan shrine. Then we took the high road back toward Soi Langsuan, paying 5 baht (or 10) to walk through the Skytrain station instead of on street level. For one, it was much breezier up top!
All over the city, there are some kind of Christmas decoration up. And just like any other decorations Thai people do, we do it all in grand style. I wonder if the Paragon will still have their crystal tree up in February…
Also, all over the city, at fancy Western restaurants you make your reservation for their special Christmas Eve dinner. Specially prepared and, of course, specially priced. Some place would serve turkey, ham, roast beef, or perhaps all three. We went to one a long, long time ago. The first Christmas meal I seemed to remember. A steakhouse in one of the hotels. We had prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, and other trimmings. That was my first Yorkshire pudding. Funny that I had the exact same meal on Monday at my company’s luncheon. But again, I digress.
It’s a different flavor of Christmas in Bangkok. It may not be true to the origin of Christmas, but just like anything from the West, Thais would find a way to make it our own. And have plenty of SANOOK (fun) doing it!