Holiday Series Day One: Happy Merry Christmas, Thailand!
You know what I like? Christmas
Yes, it’s that time a year
again. Whether you’re Christian, atheist, Muslim, Jewish or Hindu, the holidays
are here, and there’s absolutely no escape, especially on this blog. That’s
because we, as in all three of us, will be bringing you, as in all three of you
who read this blog, information about how the month of December is celebrated
around the world. We’ll be looking at twelve countries in total. Why twelve?
For the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, obviously. Happy year of the snake
I have had it with this year!
Today I’ll be beginning things
with the country I studied abroad in, Thailand. You’re probably thinking that
Thailand is a majority Buddhist country that doesn’t believe in Christmas, and
you’re absolutely right. But that hasn’t stopped us Americans from celebrating
St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo, right? In the spirit of fun, you’ll find
many stores embellished with fancy Christmas decorations that would put a lot
of Americans to shame. Around the same time, you’ll also see many strings of
yellow lights lining the streets, and lots of the color yellow in general. The
yellow is for a celebration that the Thai people take very seriously, the
birthday of their king. We’ll get into that later.
So why does Christmas have any
sort of presence at all? There is the aforementioned spirit of fun, just as in
the United States, in addition to the spirit of money, just as in the United
States. Regarding the former, Thais are able to celebrate a major Christian
holiday in the spirit of fun thanks to Buddhism, which tolerates other
religions. This pairs wonderfully with the Thai concept of “sanuk” [link].
Usually translated as fun, it means to strive for enjoyment in everything you
do, a concept I can definitely get behind. Most of what we associate with
Christmas is, in reality, pretty fun, so of course it would catch on.
Money also plays a major role
in Thai Christmas celebrations. Just like so-called “Hallmark holidays” here in
the U.S., Christmas in Thailand is poised to generate a lot of money for the
shop owners that decorate with Christmas trees and tinsel. Some of the
decorations are so spectacular that people will come to the store specifically
to see them. And while they’re there? They spend money on whatever the store
sells, of course. They might even purchase a gift for someone else if they
really get into the spirit. And that’s just for the native Thais.
Thailand generates more of its
GDP from tourism than any other Asian nation, and as such engages in many
activities to encourage others from abroad to visit. December is already a
prime season for tourism, as it is not too hot, not cold at all, and with
little rain [link]. Adding Christmas flair into the mix definitely gives
visitors something else to write home about. Additionally, it may ease some
homesickness for those feeling bad about being away from home during the
holidays. Finally, it makes shopping for Christmas gifts for friends and family
back home even more fun.
How does one celebrate
Christmas in Thailand? For many expats and even some Thai families, the answer
is to start by grabbing a Christmas tree. They can be found at places such as
Tesco Lotus, which is to Thailand what Walmart is to the United States. CNN
travel [link] has a list of things to do for Christmas in Thailand, a highlight
of which is a recommendation to go ice skating.
Taken at Sub Zero Ice Skate Club-My friend Dillon with his personal ice-skating tutor.
fact: The only time in the past twenty years I have been ice skating was last
fall in Bangkok, at the Sub Zero Ice Skate Club in the Esplanade Mall. We had
just finished a rousing game of full-contact bowling and decided we had to give
the building's skate rink a shot. And how was it? Pretty fun! It wasn't all
that cold in there, maybe slightly cooler than most air-conditioned rooms in
Thailand. Not nearly as cold as a rink here in the States would be, which
definitely affected the quality of the ice. The floor was incredibly uneven,
and pools of water were everywhere. Still, if one really wants to get into the
Christmas spirit, skating here or at one of Bangkok's other rinks is a great
way to do it.
another great way to cool off in the spirit of Christmas that does far more to
invoke the winter wonderland of Wisconsin, and that's Snow Town, a part of the
Dream World Theme Park in Bangkok. In Snow Town, children of all ages can sled,
throw snowballs, make snowmen, and see an igloo. Best of all, they can meet
Santa in his snow house! Apparently. Definitely the most Christmas-y experience
one can have in Thailand.
somewhat blends into the New Years celebration for Thais, but the start of the
calendar year is a much bigger celebration for them than Christmas. Though the
traditional Thai New Year is celebrated in April with the Songkran Water
Festival, December 31st is celebrated in a very similar fashion to the United
States. Countdown events abound, with music, fireworks, and general merriment.
It is also a time when Thai workers in Bangkok will travel to their home
provinces, meaning buses and hotels will be very packed around this time.
Buddhists will take this time to make merit at temples, reflect on the past
year and wish for luck in the year ahead.
the month of December, Thais will celebrate the birthday of their king. King
Bhumipol Aduladej was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 5th, 1927
while his father, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, was enrolled in the Public Health
program at Harvard. So, here's a couple of fun facts. Fact one, the school I
studied abroad at, Mahidol University International College, is part of Mahidol
University, named after the current king's father. Fact number two, both the
current king and his father were international education alumni! The current
king received most of his education in Switzerland. So I guess what I'm saying
is if you study abroad you may some day be king, especially if you're in line
for the throne.
The King of Thailand
do Thais celebrate the birthday of the king? I mentioned earlier strings of
yellow lights everywhere, which occasionally dwarf even the over-the-top
Christmas decorations. Yellow flags and flowers adorn virtually every home and
business. December 5th is really three holidays in one. In addition to
celebrating the king, it is also used to celebrate Thailand in general. It's
their 4th of July, essentially, complete with fireworks. And the third holiday?
As the king is considered the father of the nation, December 5th is also
celebrated as Father's Day. Much like in the United States, Father's Day is
used to show respect to one's own father, and fathers in general.
the last few years, the king has been in poor health. He was finally released
from the hospital in August. Prior to that, though, he would briefly leave the
hospital for rare public appearances, such as his annual address to the public
on his birthday. Thousands of Thais come to be in the presence of the king,
wearing yellow. Yellow, symbolizing the day of the week the king was born, has
come to represent not only the king, but a contentious political movement as
well. That's a huge issue I'm not going to get into, but if you're curious,
Google is available to you.
that's it for day one of our holiday series. Tomorrow we'll have Hannah with a
fantastic post on the holidays in the country that both she and King Bhumipol
Aduladej studied in, Switzerland! It's gonna be a good time. The festivities
resume after Thanksgiving Break on Monday with Holly and Burkina Faso! Fun AND