Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas in Thailand

Part of the deal in making a spontaneous move to Thailand in November is sacrificing being home for the holidays. For me this is the second year in-a-row away from the west coast of the U.S. for Christmas and, for the second year in-a-row, I give a big blog shout out to my mother and family for their support of my travels and commitments. Skype is the most favorite present this time of year.

Culturally, Thailand is a Buddhist nation. 99% of people are Buddhist, whether they are a monk or non-practicing. What kind of place does Christmas have in a country such as this? Well…

Thailand is also the most free, least corrupted, non-communist, commercial and globalized country of the Burma-Thailand-Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam region of SE Asia. Most Thai people have a curiosity and fascination for the West, and particularly America, that welcomes culturally American lifestyles and preferences. Commercially, Thailand is the most capitalist of this immediate region and, I think you can see where this is going…

Aside from the beautifully devout churches of Thailand that are celebrating the meaning of the season, Christmas in Thailand means everything that Christmas in America means: Buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend! It’s the most wonderful time of the year for commercialization.

In the West, the meaning of Christmas and modern Christmas commercialization morph into one. A Christmas tree is found next to a nativity scene and we celebrate the divine birth in a manger by running up credit cards. Even this irony is lost in the busyness of the season. Culture and religion intermingle, uncomfortably for many.

In Thailand, however, it’s just unapologetic commercialization. That big and beautifully decorated tree in front of the department store? No real or deeper meaning at all – it means “This is the time of year where we must shop a little more.” All those beautiful Christmas lights? They’re all connected to commerce. Traditional Christmas songs are only overheard when you’re in the mall.

The considerations and commentaries surrounding culture, religion, globalization, travel, spirituality and economics are far too expansive to wrestle with here, but experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a non-culturally Christian, but still-capitalist, worldview has been fascinating.

Give a creative gift, cherish the time with your family, celebrate the meaning of the season.

Merry Christmas from Thailand.
Pictures above:
1. The biggest Christmas tree I have ever seen, in a Bangkok mall.
2. The celebration of Christmas among the Christian believers in a Buddhist nation is inspiring to watch.
3. High schoolers caroling at a street market in Lampang about an hour outside of Chiang Mai in Thailand's north. Paige's work brings her all over Thailand.
4. Anna, one of Paige's students, gets a bit lost in the Christmas decorations.
5. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours from Paige and Sean (as close to a Christmas card as you'll see from me this year).


Dianne Whiting said...

Merry Christmas to both of you. We will miss you so very much here at home --but so happy you are together. Hooray for Skype so we can see you and talk with you on Christmas Day. And no matter how far away we are we can celebrate together the birth of our Lord. Blessings to you---

Ang said...

Merry Christmas!!! Miss you so much. AND of course I love the photo of you & Lexi ... so cute. Can you believe she is to big to pick up already? She has grown almost 2 clothes sizes since Sept.