As the holiday season kicks off here in America whether it is Thanksgiving or Christmas itself I think back to how different Christmas is in Thailand and Asia in general compared to the West. Here are just a couple of ways in which life in Asia is different this time of year:
1) New years is a much bigger deal than Christmas
The christams trees you do see in Thailand will most likely have a big new years sign on them! As Thailand is a buddhist country it is a lot more common to see large celebrations of the Western or Chinese New Year than the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
2) Thailand is a Buddhist country so they don't celebrate Christmas largely
With less than 2% of the population being Christian, other holidays like Thai New Year, otherwise known as Songkran, or Loy Krathong, the Thai lantern festival, is celebrated as the equivalent of Easter and Christmas for us.
3) Everyone is at work
The weirdest part of Christmas in Asia is the fact that everyone still has to work and that it is a completely normal day for everyone. Cars everywhere, malls and businesses still open and the weather just as hot as normal.
4) Seeing Christmas sweets or themed things in the store is actually a surprise
When you do see Christmas themed chocolates, treats, or decorations it is really exciting. Unfortunately the stuff that is around is often imporated and pretty pricey.
5) Snow is in buildings not outside
The weather never gets cold enough, particularly in Bangkok to snow, so many different snow buildings have popped up around the city with ice sculptures and sled rides.
6) Christmas music is rarely played
Apart from the main language being Thai, Christmas music is just not translated very well. If you have never seen snow or felt cold weather, it is hard to understand the concept of "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" or the Nativity story based songs that you have never heard about.
7) Santa brings up moral questions
My brother knows santa because we told him about him just as I believed in him when I was younger, but for many children even if christmas was more widely celebrated Santa wouldn't come. My parents work with a non-profit organization in the slums of Bangkok and they see many children below the poverty line where extras like toys or even clothes are rarely given or bought. How do you explain to a child living in a third world country why santa doesnt come to them when they see it in the movies?
8) Watching Christmas movies is about all the Christmas you get
My family and I used to try and get into the Christmas mood by watching a Christmas movie every night leading up to Christmas. And we would turn the air conditioner up really cold so that we would feel like its cold outside too.
9) Thai Christians are really proud of Christmas
When you are a Thai Christian you get this great excitement to celebrate the hope that you have found in Christ and to share it with your peers and family. It is such a beautiful thing to see Christians celebrating Christmas in a place that doesnt always know the hope we do.
10) Never take Christmas for granted!
When I see the madness of Christmas shopping and extravagant light decorations or Santa gifts, i can be very overwhelmed. Yet never take christmas for granted because remember that many countries around the world treat December 25th as a normal day and that we are blessed no matter how out of hand it has gotten to live in a country where christmas is openly celebrated!