While the holiday season is here, the holidays are not the traditional ones that we associate with late November and December. On my ride home from work on Thanksgiving, I saw that the monument to Rama VI at the edge of Lumpini Park was highly decorated with white lights, some of which almost seemed to resemble Christmas trees. It turns out, however, that Friday (Nov. 25) was Vajiravudh Day, a day that commemorates the passing of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) in 1925. On my way into the office on Friday morning, we drove by a large contingent of government officials conducting a memorial ceremony in his honor. When I walked by on Saturday, two large mounds of flowers and wreaths flanked the statue of the former king.
On December 5, the country will celebrate the 84th birthday of the current king, His Majesty King Bhumibol, also known as Rama IX. King Bhumibiol was born on December 5, 1927 in Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the time, his father, Prince Mahidol, was studying Public Health at Harvard and his mother, Princess Srinagarindra, was a nursing student at Simmons. In honor of his birthday, pictures of the king are being erected in front of many large office buildings and hotels.
On December 10, Thailand celebrates Constitution Day. Following a bloodless coup in June 1932, Thailand moved from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. On December 10 of that year, the first permanent constitution was adopted. Since that time, Thailand has had 16 other constitutions and charters. The most recent constitution was approved by referendum in 2007 to replace a temporary one that was put in place following the 2006 overthrow of Thaksin Shinawatra. Since December 10th falls on a Saturday this year, the holiday will be celebrated on Monday the 12th.
Thanksgiving and Christmas
Thanksgiving, of course, is not a holiday here in Thailand, so I was at work on both Thursday and Friday. Theresa and I, however, found that there were several places to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner ranging from some of the more moderately priced local restaurants that cater to expats seeking U.S.-style food (Bourbon Street, Roadhouse BBQ) to many of the high-end hotels at which many American tourists stay. Several of these restaurants advertised that they served the “Authentic Butterball Turkey,” and, really, how can you go wrong with a butterball?
Despite the fact that all the restaurants were serving buffets, we decided that we still needed to go. We ended up going to the Plaza Athénée (a Royal Méridien Hotel) for dinner. Theresa walked through the buffet area (several times, in fact) on crutches and I dutifully filled her plate with whatever goodies she desired. The food was fabulous — they had the traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce (note: I refuse to allow any vegetable onto my list of traditional Thanksgiving food.) But the traditional fare was only a small fraction of the offerings. The restaurant also offered fresh seafood including oysters, prawns, caviar, shrimp, scallops, and sashimi; assorted salads, breads, and rolls; Parma ham and other cold cuts; two or three soups; a carving station for ham and spare ribs; a pasta station with three pastas, three sauces, and several add-ins; a grill for steak and lamb chops; a variety of cheeses; a dozen different desserts including pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, key lime pie, brownie cake, rhubarb tarts, and apple pie; half a dozen homemade ice creams; and a large selection of fresh fruit.
In this tropical Buddhist nation, most of the normal experiences associated with the winter holidays are simply missing. There are no Black Friday sales, Salvation Army kettles, incessant Christmas carols, or Christmas trees for sale on corner lots. Christmas, however, is universal in its appeal, and most shopping malls have some Christmas decorations, although none are decked out to the extent that one would see in the states. Unlike in the U.S., however, the holiday signage actually says “Merry Christmas”; apparently common sense, tradition, and respect for others trumps political correctness here in the Land of Smiles.
This weekend, my journeys around Bangkok were to capture these holiday decorations. There are numerous large Christmas trees on display as well as wreathes, holly, snowmen, decorative evergreen garlands, poinsettia, and even snow flakes and Santa. At the hotel where we had Thanksgiving dinner, there was even a life-sized gingerbread house that looks like it will be where children will be able to meet Santa.
I hope that you get a feel for Christmas in Bangkok from the pictures below.
Theresa and I head back to the U.S. this Thursday and we hope to see many of you as we make our way around the country.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.