I spent much of the time leading up to the holiday just like any other time, working and pretty much living life as usual. Thailand is predominantly Buddhist with small Muslim and Christian populations, so Christmas isn't widely celebrated "religiously." Christmas is strictly commercial here and even the merchants haven't tried to hype it up (like it has been in the States) to try to generate higher "holiday" revenues.
So how is Christmas different here than my Christmases back home?
- Snow? no
- Christmas carols every where you go? no
- Bing Crosby ad nauseum? no...and for me, I could never get too much Bing!
- Neighborhoods all lit up with Christmas lights? no
- Day off from work? no
- Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Abominable Snowman, A Christmas Story on TV? no
- Fruit cake? no
- Egg nog? no
- Mistletoe? no
- Nativity scenes? no
- Turkey or ham? no
- Candy canes, tinsel, home-baked cookies? no
- Christmas tree? YES! We got a little 8 inch wooden tree with six ornaments!
- Sneaky shopping and hiding of gifts? YES!
- Spending time with the ones we love? YES! Pae and I were able to spend our second Christmas together. On Christmas eve went with Pae's brother (P'Nut) to watch the first leg of the Final of the AFF Suzuki Cup which pitted the Thai national Soccer team against Vietnam. Although we lost the first leg 2-1, we could still beat them on aggregate if we score two more goals than them in the second and final leg in Vietnam in a few days. It was only my second ever soccer game, I had a good time.
- Gift wrap? Ha-ha, I think poor Pae had to pull one of her gifts out of an unwrapped Stove Top Stuffing box, one tied up in six or seven 7-11 plastic bags, and one double bagged and tossed (with love) into an old paper bag.
- Last minute shopping? YES! But this time, It wasn't me who did the last-minute shopping trip, it was Pae. She got home after me on Christmas day and still had her purchases bagged in shopping bags...(see point above concerning gift wrap!)
- Christmas atmosphere? We tried.
I could go on for hours concerning the differences between here and there, but it's to be expected considering that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ...and he is a non-figure in the Buddhist religion.
A few observations from Christmas and the days leading up to it:
Oddest moment- At school we had a half hour long assembly where the students sang a few non religious songs and then the teachers (foreign) were forced to sing as well. As we sang Rudolph and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, our Australian Santa began distributing candies to the students. The poor guy got mosh pitted by a group over to my right. As I looked over there it looked like a pool of piranhas in a feeding frenzy around a bald, red faced, underweight Aussie Santa Claus, whose fake beard had twisted half way around his head in the melee. Definitely a memory.
Cutest story- Pae and I compared Christmas practices and such for a little while on Christmas day after I got home from work. The cutest story was one that she told about when she was a primary school girl. Although Christmas isn't a big holiday here, you do still get bombarded with pictures of one main figure throughout the week prior...that would be Jolly Ole' Saint Nick! From T.V. and stories Pae had seen how Santa would start delivering toys to good little boys and girls starting on Christmas Eve. She also observed that he would put gifts and candy in stockings that were hung on the fireplace. So Pae, before she went to bed on Christmas Eve, secretly put one of her little white school socks out in hopes that Santa would pay her a visit. She said that she woke up only to find that Santa hadn't come. She was disappointed but not disenchanted!
Most random Christmas gift- The students here like to package up some candy and give it to the teachers for a Christmas/New Years gift. Last year I got 4 bars of military soap from one of my third graders and I thought "Great! Trying to tell me something?" I also got a bottle of shaving cream that year. This year I got a bottle of Mango body scrub from a set of third grader twins...again with the hygiene products. But nothing beats this year when "GM" one of my third graders ran out of an Exam I was giving and grabbed something from his mother who had come to the school to deliver some cookies and gifts for the teachers. He came back in the class with a large red and black piece of luggage! I tried to hide the confusion that surely showed as I thanked GM for the thoughtful gift. Even funnier than receiving the luggage as a gift was riding on the back of a motorcycle taxi, trying not to pummel pedestrians and utility poles with the giant case that was catching wind as dude freakin' flew through the Soi to the main road.
Coolest thing I saw on Christmas Eve- Okay, so this has little to do with Christmas, but as we arrived back to our apartment complex after the soccer game, there was a larger elephant standing in the road in front of one of our favorite noodle shops, trunk feeling around for any handouts. The owner was mounted atop of the one ton beast guiding it through the soi, selling sugar cane and bananas to people who wanted to feed it. Written in chalk on the elephant's side in Thai said that it was a girl and that she was pregnant. The fact that there was an elephant outside of our place is not strange or unexpected, they pass through nightly in fact. It was just that she was pregnant, which was cool, and also that the dude wasn't riding bear back, but he had a little bench-shaped saddle mounted atop old girl. This "seat" and large bag of sugar cane that dude was carrying gave her the look of perhaps a Thai Santa's sleigh. I imagined a Thai Santa delivering toys to the children on an elephant!
Two favorite Christmas carols I heard this year- Every year some artist comes out with a Christmas CD. Of all of the Christmas albums in the history of the world, my favorite is and will forever be White Christmas. I have many favorites but my favorite this year from the album has to be the upbeat "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." My second favorite song this year, a little skewed as I probably only hears between 5 and 10 carols recently, has to be Kristin Chenoweth's "Do You Hear What I Hear" performed on FOX News on Christmas Eve. This was the first time I heard of her and honestly her speaking voice was like finger nails on a chalk board, but once she started singing I was amazed. See her perform the song at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ntvn8MIuPLc . You won't be sorry you waited for it to load! I guess she is a Tony winning performer in the Broadway musical "Wicked."
That's all from here, We wish you a happy holiday season. Be safe and enjoy each other's company and love.