The Christmas decorations in Thailand usually go up towards the end of November. You will mainly see them at the large shopping malls. A number of hotels and shopping malls in Bangkok will compete to have the largest or the brightest lit Christmas tree. You can also buy your own plastic tree and decorations at the hypermarkets such as Tesco Lotus and Big C. At my house, the tree will stay up for the 12 days after Christmas Day. However, many Thais keep them up for much longer. For them, Christmas and New Year is one long event that has been merged into one celebration.
Not every Thai family will celebrate Christmas of course. And, of course, not many of them will celebrate it by going to Church or singing carols around the tree. However, families with young children sometimes give their kids a small present in the morning and maybe have a special meal in the evening after school. Though, this will probably be rice and a Thai curry rather than a turkey, roasted potatoes and a Christmas pudding. They may even take their children to see the Christmas trees and decorations in Bangkok. Thai people like taking pictures of each other in front of the tree and any other bright decorations they can find.
As Christians in Thailand are a minority, you will find that Christmas day is often a normal working day. It was a bit strange, when I first came to Thailand, when I found out that I had to go to work on Christmas Day. However at my school, they had special activities during assembly. When I arrived at school in the morning, I was greeted by two of the fattest students that they could find, dressed up as Santa Claus. Many of the Kindergarten girls were also dressed up as little angels and fairies and were giving out candy to the students as they arrived. In the center of the playground there was a large Christmas tree that was surrounded by coloufully wrapped presents. During assembly, students danced around the tree and sang Christmas carols.
Some people have asked me whether it really feels like Christmas when I am in Thailand. It is true we have all the same decorations up. We probably even have the same songs being played in the malls. You can even go to a church for a Christmas service and then to a Bangkok hotel later for a Christmas dinner. And as it is winter for us, it has felt a little chilly these last few days. I think that the nearest that I have been to celebrating a real Christmas was in Sakon Nakhon last year (see here). However, for many of us Westerners, Christmas is more about spending time with families and relations that you haven’t seen for a long time. For me, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas unless I fly back to England and spend the Christmas holidays there.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!