A river party for Christmas

 In Featured Stories, Serving Asia Magazine, Thailand

By AnnaMarie Slessor

AnnaMarie was a TCK – third culture kid – in Thailand from 1973 (when she was born in Manorom) until 1990, when she graduated from Faith Academy. Here she reflects on some precious memories and lessons learned during her time living in Uthai Thani.


Christmas in Thailand. How I miss it. The enormous parties, the scrummy food, the colourful  decorations, the unique presents. The incredible people. There is no retreating into homes for quiet and traditional celebrations. Christmas in Thailand is a time of sharing, of laughter and a lot of fun with everyone.

For a few years our family lived by a tributary of the Chao Phraya.  We had a small rowboat for visiting friends who lived on the other side. Every Christmas, one of the Christian fish farmers, Mr. Bia, would host a party for church members.

There is one particular Christmas party, on a riverbank in Uthai Thani, that taught me life values to hold and live out.


Be adventurous

Dressed in party clothes, we would row across the river, baling out water, and navigating across the wakes of other boats. After docking we carefully teetered across the floating bamboo poles to the riverbank. Colourful lights were strung through the trees, and plastic chairs arranged on the bank. Winter in central Thailand was beautiful, with cooler evenings and clear starry skies.


See the beauty

Scratchy music was blurting out from speakers precariously perched atop bamboo poles. Excited children darted everywhere, inspecting the tables of food and presents, more than  ready for an evening of party games and singing.

Little girls were dressed in beautiful satin dresses, with enormous head bows and layers of thick make up. Their role was to perform an impeccably choreographed dance, to loud repetitive music. After they were all presented with prizes, after they held their hands together in a wai (of thanks), the kids scampered off to change into casual clothes, and enjoy a snack.

Khun Yai (Granny) would grab the microphone for an impromptu karaoke. She either sang a meaningful dirge or hymn. It was Granny’s moment to shine. We’d all sit still and wait it out, and applaud loudly when she was gifted a large bag of dried fish in thanks.


Enjoy the variety

The prizes for the variety show were usually boxes of small elaborately iced cakes. I don’t think anyone ever ate them. Baskets of polished, artfully arranged fruit was popular. The shiny red apples were always just for show. The baskets were wrapped in cellophane, and topped with stunningly huge colourful bows and ribbons.

The farangs were always asked to perform. My sister played a fairly tuneful Silent Night on her flute, and we sang a verse or two; all to earn a boxed cake… That would be re-gifted the next day by Mum who was always desperate for gifts to pass on.

When the food was ready, we’d be given a bowl and spoon to help ourselves to kao-phat (fried rice), fried fish, noodles, salty fish, gai-yang (grilled chicken), spicy fish, curry, platters of shrimpy salad, and beautifully cut and arranged fruit for dessert.


Love and Laugh

Mr. Bia’s appearance as Santa caused hysterical mirth, as he Thai-danced around the chairs. Santa was only roly poly around the middle, with help of a pillow tied on with a checked sarong. Under this were his skinny legs ending in old, worn flip flops. Santa would prance down, sitting on old Granny for a betelnut- stained kiss, or pulling down his crooked cotton wool beard to say a few jokes. He’d waltz a few ladies around; all the time hitching up his sagging pillow.

Santa’s arrival was the cue for everyone’s favourite game, which was to find a piece of paper taped under your chair. This number matched a particular present. Being a fish farm, the present was no surprise…cellophane bags of fish, tied with a pretty ribbon. Fried fish, dried fish, live fish. It was all handed out, with shrieks of delight and laughter at cheeky jokes from Santa. To my delight, I won a beautiful, pearlescent live fish in a bag of water.  My mother happened to see the face of Mr. Bia who was stunned to see one of his valuable fish being given away. He hadn’t intended to be that generous! At least it was the farang girl receiving it, so I cradled it carefully for the trip back over the river. The bag did spring a leak, so it ended up being a desperate row home. The fish was returned to the farmer when I returned to boarding school, much to his relief.


Join in

The evening ended with a singalong, with vigorous hand, leg and arm clapping as we fought off the mosquitoes while keeping time with the Christmas carols. Wais and waves all round punctuated the wrap up, and row home across the river.

Thank you Mr. Bia for embracing Christmas, welcoming everyone to celebrate together and teaching me, a TCK, these important values.


This article originally appeared in our February/March 2018 edition of Serving Asia magazine. If you would like to sign up for more articles, stories and testimonies, enter your details below:

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