The Worst Thing about Christmas in Thailand
Our first Christmas in Thailand fell on a Sunday, and it was baptism by fire. “Christmas is a great time for outreach,” our team leaders had told us.
But nothing had prepared me for the moment following the Christmas service (small & rural church), when the pastor said to us, “Let’s go distribute some tracts now!” (We had only been in language school for 6 months, but with hand motions, we figured it out.)
“You’re kidding me!” I thought. “I need to go home and prepare for the Christmas meal we are having tonight with all the other language learners! I already sacrificed and moved our family Christmas celebration to be tomorrow. And I only feel okay about that because it will still technically be December 25 in the U.S.!”
I went and smilingly distributed tracts, but inside, I was as grumpy as the Grinch.
On to the following year. “Thank goodness, Christmas is not on a Sunday this year!” I rejoiced. “We can have family Christmas on Christmas Day!”
… And then, our teammates called us. “There’s a school that has invited us to run a Christmas program for them on December 25! Isn’t that wonderful?”
“You’re kidding me!” I inwardly growled. “Not again! No one told me that becoming a missionary to Thailand meant I would never again have a nice Christmas!”
But as the years went by, I began to notice something about Christmas Day. In Thailand, December 25 is the day that follows December 24, and it precedes December 26, and these are just days on the calendar. It’s just one day of the year, and it’s not a special day. (Pretty much) every market vendor, every taxi driver, every schoolteacher, every business owner, gets up as usual on December 25th, and he or she goes to work, with no grouchiness or grumpiness that they have to work on December 25th. So it’s December 25th, who cares? Just another day on the calendar. Not Christmas Day.
And for me, this has become the worst thing about Christmas in Thailand. If I haven’t carefully done my shopping for Christmas dinner, no worries — my market vendors are all there, selling their meat, veggies, and fruit. I find myself depressed that every coffee shop, every carwash, every little “mom-and-pop” shop, is open.
I find myself much more willing than I used to be, to put an outreach on the calendar for December 25.
I long for the day when December 25 is a special day here, a day when many of the Thai will celebrate all the glory and pageantry and joy and anticipation that gets rolled into Christmas. Not much, is much more wonderful than the Incarnation.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
-Luci Shaw, “Mary’s Song”