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The Ghost of Christmas Future

After a decade of living in Buddhist Thailand, I finally put up Christmas decorations in my apartment this year. Find out why here...

Since moving to Thailand, I have regularly worked on Christmas Day with no more sense of missing out than I have done when working on the Thai festival of Loy Kratong or the Western kitsch-fest of Halloween.

Indeed, take a closer look and you’ll see that Christmas Day, Loy Kratong and Halloween have more in common than you thought. While none of them are official public holidays in Thailand, their colourful symbolism ensures that they are all religiously observed (pun intended) by the fun-loving Thais.

In fact, Thais love to have fun so much that they will happily adopt any foreign festival that gives them an excuse to get out the fairy lights, which explains why my adopted homeland celebrates three New Years every 365 days: January 1st, Chinese New Year and Songkran (Thai New Year).

On a personal note, the importance I once associated with Christmas may have faded along with my belief in Santa Claus, but I have no problem with Thais assimilating it into their own pantheon of festivals.

Many farangs, however, complain when Thais put up Christmassy decorations and get into the Yuletide spirit. But in these times of globalisation, why shouldn’t they? Why should one group have a monopoly on festive spirit? Arguments about respecting religion or escaping commercialisation are redundant and these Scroogesque farangs with their bah humbug attitude are surely missing the point.   

What exactly is Christmas anyway? A time for families to eat turkey and mince pies together? An excuse for adults to take time off work and get plastered? An enchanting time for children? A season of spreading good will to all men? Or maybe even the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth?

While most humans today accept the theory of evolution, we are so self-absorbed that we tend to think of the time and space in which we live as the conclusion of that process – that evolution is complete and that we and our world are its climatic result. Oh how self-delusional we are.

Christmas, like everything else, is in a state of constant evolution.

December 25th is certainly not the date on which JC was born and it wasn’t celebrated as such until over 300 years after the event. Meanwhile, many of the traditions that we associate with Christmas today date back only as far as the Middle Ages and often much less.

Just as the Romans adapted many pagan holidays to encourage converts into their own religion, and Mahayana Buddhism grew by assimilating local folklore as it spread across Asia, so any association with Christianity may be long forgotten in the global Christmas of the future. If this helps bring the world a little closer together then isn’t that the true spirit of Christmas?

Let the Thais take the Christmas ball and run with it.

Yet despite all this, Christmas is still no more important than Loy Kratong or Halloween to me personally and December 25th is just another day in tropical Thailand.

So why have I broken with recent tradition and hung Christmas decorations in my Thai home for the first time? Was it the rediscovery of my brittle Christian roots, compelling me to commemorate the birth of baby Jesus? Was I visited by the ghost of Christmas past driving me to spread good will to all men? Or was I suffering from a rare bout of homesickness, regressing me to the blissful innocence of childhood?

Answer: None of the above.

On a shopping trip to our local Bangkok supermarket, my Thai Buddhist wife and my Thai Buddhist son bought the decorations because they thought they looked cute. I know when I’m beaten. Outvoted in a democracy, I gracefully accepted the verdict (a lesson for Thailand there?).

Ho ho ho. Melly Kissmat krap...

Paul Snowdon – December 20, 2009

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