Christmas in Thailand
The season of celebrations makes a grand comeback at the end of every year. As the whole world is looking forward to bidding farewell to the old year and welcoming a new one with happy hearts refreshed and energized by the crisp and cold breeze, the icing on cake is that there is another celebration that comes a little bit before the New Year, just like a hearty entrée before the main course. Yes, we are talking about that one big bright day tinted with many green pine trees, the gentleman in red, and the familiar tune – it’s Christmas.
Christmas, which falls on December 25 of every year, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. If you are wondering whether Thailand, a Buddhist majority country, celebrates Christmas? The answer is ‘Yes.’ We celebrate Christmas, and we are not shy to say that we do go to town and go extra mile on this cheerful day. Thanks to the openness of the Thais, we embrace people from different religions and cultures, and even incorporate their practices into a part of our festive environment. It is no surprise that Christmas is one of the most anticipated celebrations of the year for many Thais even if it is not our official or a traditional holiday.
Christians in Thailand
St. Joseph Church, Bangkok [cr. Pisut Jarintippituck]
Christianity originated in the Western Asia before spreading to all continents of the world, with the holy duty of preaching and promoting Christianity entrusted to missionaries. In the 16th century, Catholicism entered Thailand, not in the form of colonization but in the form of religion preaching to the westerners in Thailand, mostly the Portuguese who conducted businesses and settled down in Ayutthaya, the capital of Thailand during 1350-1767. The first group of Christian preachers, made up of the Spanish and Portuguese, arrived in Thailand (or then Siam) in 1567, and was granted a residence from the Thai monarch. This marked the beginning of the official propagation of Christianity in Siam. Later, in the reign of King Narai the Great (1656-1688), the Vatican established a congregation and began propagating Christianity in Thailand independently. In the Rattanakosin era (1782-Present), Thailand welcomed Protestantism, which had made great contributions to Thailand in many fields, such as education, medicine and social work. Currently, Thailand recognizes the status of two Christian churches – Roman Catholics and Protestants.
Coexistence with Buddhists and Muslims
With the openness of the Thai people, communities where Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims live together in peace are a common sight. In Bangkok, one of the most racially, religiously and culturally diverse communities is the Kudeejeen Community, which has a long history dating back to the Thonburi era (1767-1782). Located in the south of the Bang Luang Canal near the bank of the Chao Phraya River, Kudeejeen is a community of three architectures and four beliefs – Christianity, Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism and Islam – all coexisting in harmony. Places of worship of different religions, such as the Catholic church of Santa Cruz, Kuan An Keng Chinese Shrine, the Buddhist temple of Kalayanamit Woramahawihan, and Bang Luang Mosque, along the river represent the local population (Thai, Chinese, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Mon, and Muslim), and add to the diversity and uniqueness of the community.
How to Celebrate Christmas in Thailand
Since Christianity is a long-term resident of the Thai culture, it is not surprising that cultures, beliefs, and practices are interchanged between the two, and ultimately leading to the celebration of Christmas in Thailand. However, the activities on December 25 do not necessarily have a religious significance for most Thais who are Buddhists. If Thai Buddhists decorate their homes with Christmas trees, organize gift exchange events, or have children hang socks to receive gifts from Santa Claus, it is all just for fun and to tighten the bond among family members, friends, and loved ones. The festive and merry atmosphere of Christmas is simply irresistible that even Buddhists would like to participate.
Surely, businesses cannot miss out on this opportunity to be a part of the celebration by offering products and services, organizing events and light decorations. Let’s take a look at what you can do during Christmas in Thailand.
- Feast for the Eyes
Christmas display at Central World [cr. TAT Newsroom]
If you are in Bangkok, the atmosphere of Christmas is literally in the air. You do not have to go far to see light decorations and giant pine trees at street corners, especially in downtown areas, such as Pathumwan, Ratchathewi, Sathorn, Bangrak, or almost at every luxury shopping malls and riverside community malls. If you are in inner Bangkok, you can do a Christmas walk by taking the Skywalk which is a pedestrian overpass that runs parallel to the sky train tracks – from the Pathumwan Intersection to Siam, Ratchaprasong Intersection, Chidlom, and Phrom Phong or Chong Nonsi. If you like a bird’s-eye view of the city under the Christmasy vibe, we recommend that you ride the largest Ferris Wheel in the city in a community mall in the Charoenkrung area. The decoration theme changes each year, but the quintessential elements of Christmas are guaranteed – giant Christmas trees outside and inside of shopping centers, sleighs, reindeer, gift boxes, and Santa Claus mascots. You will be able to fully immerse yourself in the spirit of Christmas in a warm weather while strolling in the tropical paradise of Thailand.
- Feast for the Stomach
Festive decorations at B-Cafe, Bangkok [cr. chillpainai.com]
If a spicy tom yum kung is too hot for Christmas, check out other cuisine options at restaurants near your place. With the global kitchen policy and the cultural openness of the Thai people, you can find restaurants of almost every country in the world serving culinary delights of authentic tastes. So, do not worry that you won’t be able to find turkey, ham, seafood, gingerbread, pudding, or signature desserts like Bûche de Noël or Panettone in Thailand. But if you’re more into fusion food or looking for original Christmas dishes with a Thai touch, I can tell you that there are plenty. You may have a fine dining experience at fancy restaurants in five-star hotels or have some nice conversations with friends in pubs and bars that happily open the doors for you.
- Icy Christmas, parties, and beer gardens
Winter beer garden [cr. Khaosod]
Although Thailand is a tropical country, you can still celebrate Christmas on ice at several ice rinks in department stores in Bangkok and other key provincial cities. Unfortunately, we do not have large natural skating rinks in the canals or rivers, but trust me, these cozy little skating rinks with Christmas songs played all day, children’s laughter, and decorations will make you feel like you’re skating on a canal of Amsterdam. For those who have long been away from home, this activity will more or less ease up your homesickness. If you’re a hardcore partygoer, make sure to keep an eye out for announcements and social media posts from your favorite hotels, bars and restaurants. They will prepare tons of surprises for you. For the outdoorsy kind of people, there are numerous open-air beer gardens for you. The easiest to find are the courtyards of large shopping centers, but smaller-sized beer gardens are also common. However, be sure to maintain a safe distance and follow the anti-COVID measures for the safety of yourself and everyone.
- Christmas shopping
Decorations inside Central Plaza Westgate [cr. Central Westgate]
If there were any activity in Thailand that you could do all year round without having to wait for Christmas, it would be shopping. In Bangkok and provinces, you can easily find products from various categories and price ranges no matter what time of the year, but if you wait until the year end, you will be able to profit from promotions and other marketing activities too. What a golden time for shoppers! Department stores will have events for their specialty products such as health and beauty products, mother and baby products, adventure and camping items, and imported goods. To take some Thai souvenirs home, head to the Chatuchak Market or famous floating markets where you will find gifts and products that are exotic, chic, and Thai.
- What Thai Christians do on Christmas
Thai Christians at the Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok [The Standard]
In addition to the secular Christmas, Thai Christians and Christians in Thailand participate in religious activities. Every Christian church in Thailand performs the Mass on Christmas Eve to remember the grace of Jesus and the day he came to redeem all mankind and save the world. The ceremony consists of praying, remembering Jesus Christ, and singing hymns. For Christians, Christmas is not only the birthday of Jesus, but it is also a day of redemption and an opportunity to turn a new leaf in the coming year. In addition to church activities, some Christian groups also organize service activities and donations.
And these are what you can do and more during Christmas in Thailand. The openness and hospitality of the Thai people who do not discriminate against religious and cultural diversity but embrace them with open arms and learn to enjoy the festive spirit is what makes Thailand one of the top destinations for everyone in every season.
Author: Soonyata Mianlamai