Christmas at Sriwittayapaknam School in Thailand
I have a Christmas tree. I have presents under it.
I have been baking my little hiney off for the past few weeks for friends. AND their dogs.
In about 12 hours from now, I will start my preparation for Christmas dinner of horseradish and garlic crusted prime rib and wild mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes, candied carrots, and creamed pearl onions. We are having a few “orphans” over for the feast and packing one to-go box for our Sheriff’s deputy friend on patrol on Christmas night.
This little Thai Buddhist is running around in her Santa/Elf hat, spreading holiday cheers to everybody!
And no, I don’t celebrate Christmas just because I live in the U.S. I have been celebrating Christmas as long as I remember.
“They celebrate Christmas in Thailand? I didn’t know that!”
Well, yes and no.
Yes, in a sense that the stores are all decked out with the commercial Christmas themes. Snow flakes. Snow men. Santa Claus. Elves. Christmas trees all lit up. The same images are all over the TV.
It’s not just for the holidays, you see. The lights are already up in the most parts of the country to celebrate the King’s birthday. It goes with the seasons.
And no, in a sense that only certain corners of the country will be celebrating the real Christmas, the birth of Jesus. Not everyone tuning in to the tubes would know the true meaning of Christmas. All they know is that it involves snow and this white bearded guy in the red suit.
And yes, Thai people do give each other gifts. But it’s for New Year, not Christmas. To welcome the new year, you get new things, that was I was told. You wake up on New Year’s day and you’d go to your grandparents for a blessing. Then you can open your new stuff.
So Christmas, the gift giving part of it, is just like New Year for Thais. Just a week earlier!
I grew up in a household that celebrate Christmas as a family tradition. We got Christmas presents from Santa on Christmas morning. And those were the only presents to be opened that day. The rest of the presents did not come from Santa but instead from friends and relatives, and therefore they would be opened on New Year’s Day.
My mom always put up the plastic tree they brought back from their years in the U.S. She has boxes of ornaments and lights for us to put in the tree. We had our stockings hung up on the wall by the tree since we didn’t have a chimney. My mom would put one extra stocking up for whoever my best dolly friend was that year.
This was where we would put deliver our letters to Santa two week before Christmas. “Because it takes two weeks for international airmail, dear,” was the explanation.
And my parents could come up with some good answers to our young, inquisitive minds.
How did Santa get into our house if we don’t have a chimney? My genius dad walked me to our kitchen and pointed at the exhaust vent.
If “Christmas Tree” is a pine tree, why doesn’t it look like any of the “pine trees” (Ton Son) surrounding our house? My mom said because our Christmas tree came from America, a cold and snowy place, so it needs to be thicker and has more “fur” to keep warm.
If the reindeer came from the North Pole, aren’t they hot in this weather? They shed their fur and lost their weight to accommodate the climate. Many animals do that, like “Eskimo dogs” shedding when the snow melts and camels losing their humps after many days without water.
Oh, there was an answer to everything! And all of them stirred our imagination and curiosity even more. My parents always encouraged learning. Starting a Christmas tradition is one way of doing that.
Funny that we never asked how reindeer fly. But then again, our imagination overruled a lot of the scientific facts. We believed in both magic AND science. So if Santa uses magic to squeeze through the vent leading into our house, who were we to argue.
Christmas music was played through the house. We would be coming home already singing carols learned from our schools. My brothers went to a Christian college and I to a Catholic girl school.
So we do know the story of Christmas. We just didn’t associate the holiday with the religious significance. To us, Christmas will always be our family tradition, more than anything else.
That is why I will always love Christmas. It reminds me of my childhood and my home.
Here in America, it is easy to get all wrapped up in Christmas. One would think that being married to an American would fuel the festivity in the household.
My hubby, the all-American white boy, doesn’t really do Christmas. Not a religious person to begin with, he believes that Christmas shouldn’t be just one time of the year where you do something special for your family and friends. It should be everyday of the year. I agree with him on that.
But he’s on board with me doing special things for everyone on Christmas anyway. My justification? It’s the Thai’s “New Year, New Stuff” tradition, just a week earlier.
The meaning of the holidays is still the same to me: a time where the world comes together to celebrate family, love, and friendship. Sure, we can do this any other day of the year. I can buy my friend a present any time I think of them.
But hey, since everyone where I live decides that December 25th would be the day to be extra special, I’m just going to roll with that.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!