Story and photo by Jordan Coates, Contributing Writer
Thailand holiday tree
Holidays are part of culture and tradition. They are beautiful, cherished celebrations that run deep through most people in the world. However, what happens if you are displaced from your usual holiday atmosphere? You can take the girl out of the holiday spirit, but can you take the holiday spirit out of the girl?
Let’s start with Halloween. Given that Halloween is mainly comprised of costumes and candy, it is one of my favorite holidays. It is usually a funny, exciting, scary holiday that I spend with my friends. This year I searched for a costume in order to attend a small Halloween gathering at a local western bar. All I managed to find was a plastic Power Ranger mask. How I spent the night of All Hallows Eve in Thailand though was with a trip to the night market and then back home. Normally in the United States, Halloween is celebrated over several days, weeks, or weekends. My friends and I wear costumes that have nothing to do with anything scary. Candy is wrapped in Halloween festive wrapping. The air is chilly; the leaves are multicolored and littering the ground. Pumpkins adorn front porches and hot cider and chocolate are sipped in the long lines of haunted houses. Although for me this year may have seemed like a sad, pathetic October 31st that quickly and quietly turned into November, what it really was, was a chance to reflect on all the fond Halloween memories I have and will continue to have when the atmosphere feels right. It was also a great chance for fun lesson planning. There may not have been a Halloween mood outside, but there was definitely one inside my classroom. There were tricks, treats, spooky tales, and stories of the Halloween origin. The kids were ecstatic and extremely excited for their Halloween party. Well, the kids lucky enough to go to international school anyway. Oddly, they all seemed to be dressing as vampires, which I have a feeling has a lot to do with the adored Edward Cullen.
As November crept by, I became an annoying voice to all those who would listen about the upcoming holiday, Thanksgiving. Although I have been out of country for the last three Thanksgivings now, this year’s absence became the most apparent. My persistent requests were nonchalantly shrugged off by fellow westerners. As a westerner in Thailand you form a sort of bond with pretty much any westerner you see. This strong alliance had made me forget that although they were westerners, they were not American and did not celebrate Thanksgiving. This actually shocked me, as did the fact that I forgot and had to Google when Thanksgiving was. If my sister’s birthday wasn’t so near Thanksgiving, and I didn’t have a strong passion for food, I may very well have forgotten all about turkey day. I didn’t though, and so, I told my students the tales of pilgrims and Indians and the glory that is turkey, stuffing, corn pudding, and all the other fixings. However, despite my descriptive explanations and drawings of a Thanksgiving feast, when I asked them to use adjectives to describe their own self-created Thanksgiving meal, there was far less turkey and a lot more fried rice. I searched as far as the ads and Google would take me, but only a few restaurants were offering a Thanksgiving meal. A few smart Thai’s had caught on to the holiday and were milking it for all it was worth. Although I wanted that meal, I was not so financially well off to be able to pay that high a price for an imported turkey. However, my annoying voice did not go unanswered, I can happily say. When classes ended on November 24th, I was surprised to be picked up by my neighbors and escorted to the store to pick out any Thanksgiving worthy items that I desired. Thanksgiving this year was not an all day affair; there was no parade or football playing in the background. I had no nap after my meal. The meal was not elaborate, and my family was not there, but it was still one of the best Thanksgivings. If I’ve gotten it correct, Thanksgiving is about bringing different people together, sharing, and giving thanks. I shared a Thanksgiving meal of roast chicken, Russian style mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, beans, salad, and Dunkin Donuts for dessert with a British boyfriend, a Thai neighbor, and a Russian neighbor. It was the most makeshift Thanksgiving I have ever had, and the first Thanksgiving any of them had ever had. For that reason, as well as for the many things that I have to be thankful for, it truly was a very happy Thanksgiving.
Compliments of my boyfriend’s parents, Christmas began with the opening of an Advent calendar. We had a Christmas CD, but unfortunately nothing to play it on. Some of the stores had a few decorations and Christmas gifts available for the foreign community. A few restaurants and hotels had Christmas trees with lights. Some of the stores even played the classics like “In a Winter Wonderland”. Thailand was no winter wonderland though. Outside the heat was scorching, and the country was becoming over run with tourists. As the day drew nearer, it felt less and less like Christmas. My holiday shopping was very limited, and I was pretty sure Santa Claus wasn’t going to find my new residence. I taught my kids about the true meaning of Christmas. I was surprised to learn how little they knew of the holiday. The knowledge did not extend far past Santa Claus. The international students knew a bit more, as they are privy to Christmas parties, Santa visits, and present exchanges. Even with this however, nothing felt festive. Christmas is one of those holidays that is not just one day, it is the whole month. It is a whole month of carols, cakes and cookies, cards, seeing friends and family, chilly air, candy canes and mistletoe; it is decorating the tree and pretending Santa left your presents even when you are way past the age of such make believe. It is the jolly mood of all except a few grinches. It’s the feeling, the feeling of Christmas. Oh, what’s that called again? Right. The Christmas spirit. I finally unearthed my Christmas spirit when Santa delivered my present two days early. What more could a girl who hadn’t been home for almost a year ask for Christmas than for her mother? Especially a mother who seemed to bring holiday cheer in her suitcase. In one night, the illusion of Christmas was no longer an illusion. Lights colored the doorways, stockings hung, presents were cluttered around a decorated wooden statue that was now a Christmas tree, and a cinnamon bun candle burned. On Christmas Eve we sat on my porch with the company of British, Thai, and Russian neighbors. We ate and drank and were merry. On Christmas morning, mom had coffee made and we opened presents. That night we shared an expensive, but very nice Christmas feast, and in a Christmas miracle our neighbors got us a DVD player which we played our Christmas music on for the rest of the day and week. Hey, who says the 25 days of Christmas can’t come after the 25th? Miles away from the home I have spent Christmas in my entire life, this Christmas was different in every stretch of the imagination, but it was great. There were limited gifts, but lots of laughter. There was celebration of the holy day and the gathering of friends and family. It was one of the best Christmas’s in that being away from all the commercialization of the holiday, it was a true to the holiday celebration, and we were just in shorts and flip flops!
I asked one of my students, 11 yr. old Nae Nae, about the holidays, and she said: “I like these holidays. They are very interesting. I am excited for them every year. My favorite is Christmas. We have a party, get presents, and I get to decorate the Christmas tree at my parent’s hotel. I don’t celebrate holidays much with my family, but I do at school and with friends. I know they are western holidays, but I wish we could celebrate them more.”
As you can see, even in a Buddhist country, these holidays have made their mark. The children have gotten a taste of the holiday spirit and want more. As for the answer to the question I posed earlier, you can take the girl out of the holiday spirit, but you can’t take the holiday spirit out of the girl. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are looking forward to the holidays ahead.