Christmas in a Buddhist Country

When we walk around in Thailand, we are confronted with a realization that Christmas holds a foreign concept to the Thai people. The decorations have pushed their way into the big shopping malls and even on some of the downtown streets, but with one subtle difference. The decorations mostly say Happy New Year.

Christmas and the narrative behind the holiday are not known in Thailand, but the festivity and exuberant decorations have been seen in the movies and holiday images. They are beginning to get the idea, even if it is a little fuzzy still.

Recently, I was wearing a pink shirt for the coming King’s birthday celebration. I wore bright pink for days leading up to the King’s birthday as it was a good excuse to wear bright colors. Normally, Thais only wear bright colors during Songkran (for about 1 week), but I love wearing lots of different colors. Pink was the color this year, a lucky color. While wearing this shirt, one of the girls in the church came up to me saying how festive I looked and ready for Christmas. I was confused and said, ‘my shirt is pink.’ The girl replied it is bright and looked perfect for Christmas. I didn’t bother to explain the red for Christmas is not a broad and all encompassing red, but a specific and bright Christmas red.

The symbols of Christmas get mixed up here, so we do our best to make our apartment feel like Christmas. We have a little tree, trimmed and ready from the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas penguins and more throughout our apartment. This perplexes the Thais who think that Christmas decorations should only be put up the last week or two of December.

However, we do hear Christmas music played in the malls and airports. We even hear the traditional carols that clearly articulate the message of Jesus’ birth as to a Thai person they just signify a big holiday. On our flight back from Chiang Mai and a missionary retreat with other Foursquare missionaries in Thailand, the plane played Christmas music to give the feel of Christmas, songs like ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘What Child is This’. The music resonated in us bringing to mind Christmas memories. To others, it just sounded like another genre of music designated for this western holiday.

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