This is a wonderful time of year in Bangkok. It is officially “Cool Season” [ฤดูหนาว], which means that most days you can walk around without breaking into an immediate sweat. It is also the season of lights and decorations. Some festive decorations go up for The King’s birthday on Dec 5th – then, although 94.6% of Thais are Buddhist, the city adopts Christmas as if it was born to it… any excuse to dress up and party!
For a few weeks, just as in any Western country, Christmas songs and carols can be heard everywhere. They are blasted from loudspeakers in the shopping centres and train stations. They are played on the radio and in elevators. They are performed on the streets and at the various parties and luncheons. At one lunch I attended, we had not one, but two groups of orphans singing in return for their visit with Santa. Christmas in Bangkok is not only about bright lights, parties and shopping; it is also a timely reminder of those less fortunate.
Thais are happy to “celebrate” Christmas, in terms of the trees, and the lights, and the gifts, and all the other trappings. As I said earlier, any excuse for a party! But, the spiritual practice of most Thais is grounded in the Hindu/Brahmin/Buddhist traditions, and is very much a part of daily life, every day of the year. The evidence is everywhere: every house and business has either an animist spirit-house or a Chinese shrine, or both. People routinely get up early to give rice and other food to the monks walking their morning alms rounds. Buddhist ceremonies are an integral part of all major life-events like births, deaths, and marriages, and blessings are sought for most other changes, like new houses or new cars. In the course of their daily lives, Thais wai or ‘pay respect’ to statues of Kings or Buddhist Abbots, Buddha images and shrines for Hindu or Brahmin deities.
May the spirit of the season be with you! Happy Holidays.