Today’s Tis the Season post comes from Britta of It’s a Britta Bottle!
A Thailand Christmas and a New Holiday Perspective
One of my absolute favorite Christmas memories is a relatively recent one, in what some might see as a most unconventional location.
The Setting: A shopping mall, Bangkok, Thailand
The Event: Christmas Ice Skating
The Players: A group of Western English teachers
Christmas in Thailand! Say what!
I think it is relevant for those of you readers unfamiliar with my story to mention that I lived in Thailand from October 2015 to March 2016, where I taught English to the cutest kindergarteners on the planet, probably. Thailand was simultaneously the best and hardest thing I’ve done for myself to date. In the early six months that I was abroad, I had some of the most memorable and exciting moments of my short twenty-three years, as well as some of the most painful moments that inspired a lot of self-reflection and growth. In the eight months since I’ve been back on US soil, I can safely say that my time in Southeast Asia fundamentally shaped me into the person I am today.
Christmas in Thailand was one of the incredible experiences. When I tell people I spent the 2015 holiday season in a primarily Buddhist country away from friends and family, many of them can hardly fathom how hard it must have been for me. The thing is, though, being abroad for Christmas was incredibly easy. Almost too easy. For “Tis the Season” 2014, back when I was a senior in college, I wrote for Amelia about how unenthused and exhausted I was by the holidays—particularly, all the materialism associated with the holidays season, as well as the planning and expectations that the holiday season has a tendency to bring. I wasn’t looking forward to any of it and, quite honestly, couldn’t wait for it to all be over. As a soon-to- be college graduate stressed out by my own imminent entry in the “real world,” the magic of Christmas that I had cherished so much in younger years was, rather suddenly, lost on me.
Finding myself in Thailand a year later, then, was a bit of a relief. I was away from all the stress I had begun to associate with the season in the previous year; while Thailand acknowledges Christmas with public decorations and music– mostly by influence from the West—there isn’t the focus on religion and tradition that is so prominent in western, primarily Christian countries. That, and the scorching tropical weather (a very strange December, indeed, for a native of the upper Midwestern United States), gave the holiday season a very different, almost none-existent feel for me. In fact, I barely thought about Christmas until the day of.
I worked on Christmas day in Thailand, putting on Christmas games and festivities for students with the other foreign teachers at my school. While a bit stressful (our principal told us a mere few days beforehand that we had to put on Christmas games for the students on Christmas day, which we promptly had to make up on the fly), it was a fun and extremely memorable way to spend the day.
After school, I hopped into one of the small, local, often precariously driven vans (usually crammed to the brim with ten to twelve people, I might add) to make the forty-five minute ride from the small town I lived in on the outskirts of Bangkok, to Bangkok proper. In Bangkok, I was to spend the weekend with a group of fantastic people I had met in my October TESOL course in Chiang Mai (TESOL is an ESL certification program). Our ice skating excursion was one of the events we packed into our memorable Christmas weekend. That weekend is up there on the list of one of my favorite Thailand experiences (particularly, the mall ice skating), and my Thailand Christmas is down in the books as a favorite.
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In the aftermath of my Thailand Christmas, I came to the realization that it doesn’t matter where on Earth you are for the holidays, as long as you are surrounded by good people and equally good cheer. In Thailand, surrounded my Thai students and my TESOL friends, I had just that.
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A lot has happened in the last year. I have grown up in so many ways; I view the world in a very different light; I would consider myself to be a kinder, more understanding human. Christmas no longer has the same magical allure of my youth, but the stress I experienced two years ago has been replaced by a genuine interest in the people around me and a desire to embrace this season of giving for what it truly is—a time of joy and light and love.
In Thailand, I realized that the people you share your holiday season with are more important than any location on the planet—yet, as a Minnesota native currently living across the country in Washington, DC (yes, I’ve moved around a lot in the last year), I sure am looking forward to heading back to my home state for Christmas 2016. My Thailand Christmas last year was incredible—but I can’t wait to make new memories with my family at home this year.
Britta is a part-homebody, party-wandering twenty-something; though she grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis and became an expat in Thailand for a while last year, she now calls The District of Columbia home (and is quite adamant about the fact that it far more than the place where politics and policy are supposed to happen). Her blog, It’s a Britta Bottle! is a little corner of the internet where she writes about whatever she wants whenever she wants. When she’s not writing or badgering herself because she should be writing, you can probably find her practicing yoga, engrossed in a book, or exploring her adopted city.
Tis the Season is a yearly holiday-themed series on Keep Your Feet. The goal is to bring the blogging community together to celebrate holiday memories and traditions.