While Christmas is not my favorite holiday (that being American Thanksgiving), the longer I stay in Thailand the more I try to make the most of the season. Celebrating such a festive time of year — one which I associate with cold and snow — in Southeast Asia is not easy given the hot, sunny days of December here. But is has always seemed a bit odd at how popular Christmas is in Thailand, a country in which more than 98 percent of the people are not Christians at all. Each year, the Yuletide themes become ever more prevalent. Thais — Buddhists and Muslims alike — simply love Christmas and go all-out to show it, often to the bemusement of expats and the delight of tourists.
Most of the big shopping malls throughout the Kingdom erect large Christmas trees in their parking lots and fill their interiors with reminders of the season. You see cheap Santa hats and fake beards in many local market stalls. There are now at least two shops near my home on the resort island of Phuket that specialize in selling decorations and there is an increasing selection of artificial trees at a big-box store called Big C (sort of like a K-Mart if you remember those, or a poor man’s Wal-Mart/Target). I even found full-size fake reindeer last year.
When I began teaching in Thailand nearly 16 years ago, I taught at a large international school which put on an extravagant Christmas pageant each year and we actually had the day (as well as the week until New Year’s) off. After four years there, I switched to teaching in Thai government schools which weren’t so geared towards Santa and his elves at that time. It certainly isn’t a holiday and is just another regular day at school (I’m lucky if I get two days off at the end of December). However, each year has seen an increase in the decorations and celebrations at these schools as the foreign teachers try to inject a bit of cheer into their classrooms. I have often appeared as Santa during this time, donning a very hot jacket, pants, hat, and fake beard to perform at various school assemblies during a one- or two-day “tour” organized by my teaching agency.
Last year, coming out of the disaster that most of 2020 was, many were looking forward to Christmas and the stores were full of holiday baubles and the like. My school was preparing for a huge show which involved significant rehearsal time in addition to preparing for the upcoming mid-term exams. I spent several weekends creating holiday games and decorations for my agency’s Christmas party. However, we experienced our Second Wave of COVID-19 about a week before the date and all activities were cancelled. The last day before the impending school lockdown, I filled a tote-bag with candy, donned a Santa mask, and went around doing my “Ho! Ho! Ho!” routine as Thai teachers tried to take selfies with me. The following day — December 24th — all of us teachers had to deep-clean the empty-school. We taught online for the first month of 2021.
So, I think 2021 might be a BIG Christmas in Thailand. If the Fourth Wave doesn’t take hold (there are already a few signs that it might be just around the corner). Thailand reopened some parts of the country to vaccinated tourists earlier this month, trying to follow the Phuket Sandbox model and there were plans for a massive New Year’s Eve celebration (in typical Thai fashion, two celebrities were announced before they were asked to participate; one has already declined). Just last week, it was announced that bars would not be allowed to reopen until at least mid-January which doesn’t exactly help the tourism situation. But the locals really want something to look forward to.
I have already seen Christmas trees and other decorations in various small businesses starting to go up in the past week or so. This is unusual as such items don’t normally appear until around the first week of December. I don’t mind as it helps cheer me up and gets me in the mood for the holiday. It takes my mind off of not working very much right now (will my school ever decide to reopen?!).
I will try to document the 2021 Christmas season in Phuket as well as I can over the next month. This first post was inspired by the latest update to my food delivery app last night. I was amazed that even the fast food companies had jumped the gun with holiday-themed items. I think these are quite amusing (and the mix of toppings for the pizzas do not appeal to me at all). First, let’s look at what Burger King is offering:
Pizza Company has gone Yuletide Bonkers, if you ask me. There are four new holiday-themed pizzas plus you can get “snow” on your chicken wings (I’m guessing that it’s grated parmesan cheese but, it might be coconut flakes — yuk! — for all I know). Oh, also new on the menu is the “Crazy Happy” pizza which could produce a different kind of holiday cheer but more on that one later…
There are also several “party” sets which are just regular combinations with holiday-themed names. But front and center on the Pizza Company landing page is the intriguingly named “Crazy Happy” pizza. With an unusual leaf on top. No! It couldn’t be…
Yes, Thailand’s largest restaurant chain (much bigger market share than Pizza Company and about even with McDonald’s and KFC) has a cannabis pizza. A sign of the times, I suppose, but I was still surprised. Thailand has only recently legalized marijuana for some usages but I think most of the neighboring countries still apply stiff penalties if you are caught with it in any form. That being said, I can remember seeing a pot pizza on the menu at a restaurant in Seam Reap, Cambodia, a few years ago. (And, no, I didn’t try it nor will I order this one.) I suppose that’s one way you can have a “crazy happy” holiday.
Would you order any of these pizzas or burgers? Do they scream “Merry Christmas” or “gimmick”? What fast food holiday tie-ins have you seen this year?
Let me know in the comments.
Happy Holiday Season, pre-Thanksgiving…
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