It makes sense for Thais that the King’s birthday, December 5, the Father of the Country, is also Father’s Day. Ditto for the Queen’s birthday on August 12 and Mother’s Day.
In the U.S., though, Mother’s Day lands on every 2nd Sunday of May and 3rd Sunday of June for Father’s Day. That threw me off so badly my first few years here.
According to Wikipedia, Mother’s Day was originally conceived by social activist Julia Ward Howe during the American Civil War in 1870 with a call to unite women against war. She wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation. Nowadays, the day is simply celebrates motherhood and thanking mothers…in the fantastically commercialized way!
Indeed, this weekend is made out to be yet another holiday to buy cards, flowers, and gifts for your moms, grandmothers, and other female friends who have kids, to show your love and appreciation. It’s a warm and fuzzy sort of holiday when everyone says, “Awwww….”
Look at me, I’ve sent so many Mother’s Day cards to folks that at some point I buy a 10-pack. You see, I’d send a card each to my best friend’s mom, my high school host mom, Brandon’s sisters, and some other friends with kids. Brandon’s mom and my auntie aka my other mom (friend of the family) get their own special cards. And of course, I bought one extra one to save for next August for my own mommy.
It’s a sweet holiday for the U.S. but in Thailand, Mother’s Day is more somber and has so much deeper meaning to me.
Back in Thailand, my school has always have a Mother’s Day ceremony. I believe EVERY grade and high school in the country probably has something similar.
One week up to the day, all the students would be working on handmade Mother’s Day card, poems, and, for older kids, jasmine garlands (puang malai) that we’d give to our moms at the school event. A month before that, we would’ve had our poetry and essay contests about moms, and whatever the performance was would’ve already been in rehearsal. The student body would rehearse the song that we’d sing, “Kaa Naam Nom”—the Value of Mother’s Milk which is the song about how we could never pay back the debt of gratitude for mom’s sacrifices—and run through the programs for the big day which usually includes speech by the principal, award winning poetries and essays by the students, maybe a play or a dance revue, and then ends with the student body singing as, row by row, we get up to find our moms.
We would crawl up to our moms on our knees, keeping our heads low. We “krab”—prostrate—at their feet and present our handmade gifts. Moms would hug us and cry. And then we went back to our seats and kept singing until everyone had their turns. Thus conclude the Mother’s Day ceremony.
Never ever a dry eye in the house by the time we start singing Kaa Naam Nom. I mean, moms and the kids are already tearing up by the intro music! It’s a song that everyone knows and truly understands the meaning. I could sit through the speeches and blah blah blahs and not shed a tear, but I cried every time when I hear the song.
All the week that leads up to Mother’s or Father’s day, school made it impossible not to seriously ponder the role of our parents in our lives. It’s partly a Buddhist value of gratefulness. To pay back some of the bottomless debt of gratitude to your parents, you must obey them. You must be good. You must not hurt them in anyway. They give you your life. They shelter you. They raise you. You owe them everything.
And it’s true. We owe our parents everything. And our society makes us realize that at least once a year.
We would do the same thing again when December comes for Father’s Day. Instead of Ka Nam Nomm, we would sing something else for dad. I can’t seem to recall the song at the moment.
Here in the U.S., it seems that you only show appreciation to your mom. You celebrate moms. Yey, mom. Thanks mom. Here are some flowers. Here’s some gift. Let me take you out to champagne brunch. Yippee.
To us Thais, Mother’s and Father’s Days mean so much more. Gifts were not important. A simple garland, reserved for those who we respect and pay homage to, is all we need for the day. We prostrate at their feet. We acknowledge their hard work and realize how much they have to sacrifice to raise us, and honor them accordingly.
Either way, may it be the commercialized holiday or a deeply spiritual occasion, Mother’s and Father’s Day seem to becoming more of a Valentine’s Day. Not just in the highly commercialized sense but it has become the only day that you’d show love.
Brandon and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day because we show love to each other everyday. One day a year to show someone you love them is a load of crap. Same thing with Mother’s and Father’s day. Yes, they are days that we made special for them, almost as reminder. Just in case you haven’t told your parents all year that you love and appreciate them, and that you haven’t realized that you’re being an ungrateful child, today’s the day to make up for it!
We shouldn’t need a day to know that. We should KNOW that. And we should be thanking them everyday for what they’ve done for us. I know that I’m grateful for my parents’ love and all they’ve done for me everyday, or else I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now, living the life that I’ve chosen to live that they have given me the opportunity to live it.
Wow. Check that out. That was very un-American of me, isn’t it? Heh. See? You can take a Thai girl out of Thailand, but you can never take all of that Thainess out of me.
And, oh yeah. Happy Mother’s Day, you Yankees you. ;-D