I celebrated Christmas twice: once on December 17th in my hometown of Kamphaengphet and again on Christmas Day in Nan while I was on week exchange with Sofia. I was quite lucky to have so many holiday activities, as Christmas is not customarily celebrated in Thailand. I also celebrated New Year’s Day in Nan with Sofia’s host family.
Christmas in Kamphaengphet//
My Christmas plans were pretty up in the air for a while, as most of my plans in Thailand were. I didn’t know what day our Christmas celebration at school was or what that would even consist of. However, seeing all the Christmas displays in Hua Hin made me determined to make this year’s Christmas unforgettable for my friends. I enlisted Mind’s help when we were in Hua Hin to help me pick out lovely presents for our seven best friends (and her). I made a mental list of potential presents and the people I wanted to give things to, steadily saving my stipend to pull off the surprises I had planned. On December 14th, I went with Mind and her mother Christmas shopping at our local malls.
Mind was one of my first ever friends, being one of the three girls who approached me while overwhelmed and terrified on my first day of school and instantly welcomed me into her group with open arms. She has been beyond helpful and sweet to me ever since then and I thought she could provide insightful opinions on what our friends would like. Not to mention, it was good practice for her to see Christmas behind-the-scenes before she studies abroad in the USA in the 2019-2020 school year. This was the first time I ever met her mother, a woman full of life and joy who clearly loved Mind with every ounce of her being. Mind’s mom was very spirited, wearing lots of colourful patterns and beautiful makeup and chatting to us happily in the car. She was excited to practice English with me and learn about my culture, as she was thrilled her daughter would be immersed in it soon enough.
We started our shopping marathon at the Big C Supercenter, namely at Peem’s favourite store: the Strawberry Club. In fact, almost every time we went to Big C, she stopped inside and her dad let her pick out one or two toys, as everything only cost around 20 baht ($0.65). I got stockings for all my Nongs (meaning like my little siblings): Peem (my sister), Gan & Sa-eh (our cousins), and Natcha (Teacher Nee-On’s granddaughter). I filled them with a huge basket of trinkets, such as slime (my sister’s favourite), hair accessories, candy, and lots of toys. After that, we went to Cutepress to get Saiphan and Aomsub’s presents, as they are very girly and really like makeup. I got Aomsub a lemon and an aloe vera face mask, mascara, and chapstick. Saiphan’s present was a night face mask, pink heart tape, a Barbie highlighter, a milk face mask, and a strawberry chapstick. I got the stationary from the upstairs level of Big C. While we were upstairs, Mind & I found a backpack that we thought our friend Baitoey would love. I also got her M&M’s, one of her favourite candies, in a figurine shape Mind insisted Baitoey would think was cute. I got little cookies, chocolate coins, and marshmallows for mini gift bags to give everyone (57 kids) in my class, as well as marshmallows for my friend Beam. I also bought fancy Christmas chocolates for all of my teachers and my host family. I found Christmas lights and decorations that I later hung up in my room and at the AFS office. It was rather hard but I sneakily bought Mind some cute Christmas pants, as she mentioned she’d like Christmas clothes. Mind also bought a mini Christmas tree that she hid from her mother to surprise her later. Mind’s mother took us to get donuts and she filmed it on her Facebook, which I thought was cute. We then went just outside the Big C to a small weekend market, where I bought Sofia some silly earrings. Mind’s mother was very considerate of my vegetarianism and she bought some lovely fresh vegetable dishes, including a tofu Pad Thai, for us to eat later for lunch. She left shortly after, leaving Mind and I to hang out at the mall for a bit.
After re-considering my list of presents & people, we decided to go back to Mind’s house for lunch to regroup before going back out to another mall. We went by สองแถว (or songtaew, a kind of open air taxi). This was one of my first times using one so I was rather excited about it.
I had never been to Mind’s house before and I was very happy to be invited. I met her dad and her little dogs that greeted us at the door. Mind’s mother had a delicious lunch ready and I was in heaven. After eating, Mind and I relaxed for a while and we started filling the stockings. She debated where to hide her mini tree, eventually settling for in her bathroom.
Mind and I then went by motorcycle to Robinson’s, another mall in town. We went to B2S, a stationary store, where I bought my friends Por & Fhan sketchbooks and cute pens. They are both exceedingly talented artists so I thought it would be rather useful. We got Beam some high-quality headphones, as she is a music fanatic. We walked home from school together every day, sometimes chatting but usually listening to music and just enjoying each other’s company. Mind helped me pick out ones that matched her phone case. We got my friend Jennie a new baseball cap as she wears them a lot. That pretty much concluded our shopping (though I later went once more with my host family). Mind & her mother took me home before it got too dark and I thanked them for the lovely day.
My host parents couldn’t contain their laughter when I arrived home with bags and bags of presents. I set up shop in my dad’s classroom in the front of our house, complete with classic Christmas music, and I spent hours meticulously wrapping the presents with Christmas paper I bought in Hua Hin. I even tied little gold ribbons around the presents and painted their names on them. I have got to give props to my natural parents for their undeniable skills because I had no idea how hard it is to wrap them perfectly. I also had to make the 57 gift bags, which was a far greater task than I had anticipated. I wanted to make each of my classmates feel special and appreciated so I decided I would make each of them a little Christmas card with their name on it and with an individual design. I am certainly not an artist and I found out by the twentieth card that there are only so many Christmas doodles you can do. I completely exhausted mittens, snowflakes, stockings, snowmen, santa hats, and every Christmas related thing imaginable. After making cards, I had to actually assemble the gift bags, dividing up the candies and cookies and American flag pencils I brought with me from the USA. The end product was completely worth it but it cost me many sleepless nights. Peem once walked in and her eyes lit up instantly, taken aback by all the gifts and liveliness. She talked to me excitedly, asking what I was doing. I told her it was for Christmas and made her some Cadbury sipping chocolate with marshmallows, which I miraculously found once in the mall. Every day for weeks in the winter, I made hot chocolate for Peem (and her friends if they were over). She would sit by me for a little and I had to make sure she didn’t drink it too fast and burn her tongue. I liked spending time with Peem, despite our glaring language difference. After finishing her drink, she would say a polite “Thank you!” and run back to watching “My Little Pony”, giggling all the while. My host dad sat with me in the classroom while he worked and used his computer, every now and again glancing up at the commotion to laugh a little or remark on my progress. I remember this time vividly through wearing exclusively red and green clothes & Christmas apparel, sometimes singing Christmas songs that would amuse my family, and my hands cramping up from all the drawing I was doing. My family could have confused me with a Christmas elf with all the dedication and enthusiasm I put into this. To be honest, I’m not even that big of a fan of Christmas in the States. (Halloween is much more my style.) However, this year was different. I had a unique opportunity to make so many people happy using my culture and I couldn’t pass it up.
At school, my energy levels were matched by Teacher Nee-On and Kru Nok, who decorated our office area to the nines. They let me play Christmas music semi-loudly all the time, leading to impromptu sing-alongs. I especially loved singing with Natcha, as she knew “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” which was absolutely the sweetest thing ever. Natcha’s ability to retain so much English at such a young age still leaves me completely floored and I audibly gasped when she joined me all of a sudden while I was singing.
We hung up lights in the doorways, as well as banners everywhere in both Thai and English. The English teachers were also assigning creative Christmas assignments so the room was full of beautifully decorated poster-boards and cards. Teacher Nee-On and other teachers recruited me to help grade them, picking both the most visually appealing and grammatically correct art. I was amazed by the pure talent that was displayed in almost all of the students’ work. My favourite part was the huge Christmas tree we set up in the center of the English hallway– Christmas star and all. Teacher Nee-On told me she had been doing this for a few years and put a lot of thought into the ornament arrangement, making it different every year. I spent my free time following her instructions to make the tree stunning with tinsel and ornaments galore. Stepping back and taking a look at the Christmas tree on the whole to fix the odd ornament was incredibly satisfying. Teacher Nee-On even had countless boxes wrapped to look like presents to put under the tree. Inside the office, we had a mini Christmas tree in my corner of the room, where I put my real presents in anticipation of Christmas.
I was completely blindsided by the full list of activities we had prepared for our Christmas celebration. Kru Nok informed me the day before that I had to wear Christmas clothes and I scrambled to find something appropriate. I finally resigned myself to wear an ugly Christmas sweater with funny pajama pants, at least leaving me comfortable if not well-dressed. I was less than amused to see all the Thai girls wearing cute Santa dresses the next day, knowing I looked like a complete clown in comparison. However, I was consoled upon a second glance at their heels and the thickness of the costume. Our celebration was rather early, on December 17th, as everyone had finals on Christmas day. I arrived at school early, this time unfazed by people staring because nothing could top my embarrassment walking to school in a pumpkin costume on Halloween. The English department collaborated with the STEM department (which houses most of our foreign teachers anyways), making this event spectacular. Kru Nok, Teacher Nee-On, Teacher Suporn, and Teacher Ben (from STEM) were in the front of the school in full Christmas gear, ready to welcome students to school with spirit. Some kids in Matthayom 4 joined me and the STEM foreign teachers in giving out candy at the front of school. I spotted my friend Paul (a fellow Brit) and instantly burst out laughing at the sight of him in a full santa suit– beard included. Someone had to do it and he was jolly to meet the task. We mostly hung out together though I sometimes crossed over the street to hang out and steal candy for our side from Noe, the eighteen-year-old Rotary boy from Indiana, and Sean, our Scottish friend. The director of our school, one of the most highly respected members of our community, even came to pass out candy, surprising us all in a red suit, tie, and Santa hat.
Morning assembly was by far the most interesting it had gotten all year. The back area of the dome was transformed into a makeshift stage. After my host dad finished the daily things we have to do like the National Anthem and prayer, our Christmas show began. The director’s son (who I am friends with because he is well-travelled and fluent in both English & Spanish) was our MC and led us through the event. My friends did a flash mob dance to a Jingle Bell Rock remix and it was really fun and lively. The whole gang of foreigners (Noe & Sean from America, Sean from Scotland, Lewis & Paul from England, Tim from Russia, Yang from China, Rob from the Philippines, Leo from Germany, and Eldo from South Korea) came together to do an extremely poorly planned nativity skit. I remind you this is in front of no less than 3,000 people. We had arranged this the day before in a rushed fifteen minute meeting in an empty classroom. The script was written in kind of confusing but funny English, as it was clearly near ancient at this point. Yang and I, the only girls of the lot, did Rock, Paper, Scissors for who would be Mary. When I lost, I begged her to do it anyways and she obliged. Noe was baby Jesus, which was hilarious. My original role was a shepherd but there were some complications and Sean from America couldn’t come to school in time. I took on the role of narrator alongside Rob and we had a messy but fun time telling the story. The audience reacted well, laughing along with our craziness.
I was completely astonished by the finale, essentially a drag show done by an alumni of our school & friend of the director’s son. Thailand is safe for LGBT people, though the very definitions of sexuality and gender are very different than in the Western world. However, it is still a more conservative country so this happening in a school was not what I expected in the slightest. It was a lot of fun though and the crowd went absolutely wild.
Our celebrations paused until lunchtime, where we had a Christmas market under the English building outside the entrance to the cafeteria. Kids were selling snacks like churros and the area was decorated with the students’ artwork. The highlight was, by far, a Christmas fashion show. My friends and I had a front row seat and watched the pairs of kids do their best on the catwalk with absolutely crazy costumes.
When the show finished, I gave all of my teachers their presents.
My friends came upstairs to the AFS office so they could open their Christmas gifts as a group. Here is a link to the video of my friends opening them, with some English subtitles. Seeing my best friends so happy was definitely my favourite part of the day.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have another chance to see my whole class to give them the presents so my friends passed them out while I was out of town. I later found my Instagram and LINE (a Thai messaging app) blowing up from really lovely messages thanking me and wishing me a happy holiday.
The last thing I did before leaving school that day (sleep-deprived like never before) was give little Natcha her stocking! Her favourite part was the little snacks, the bubbles, and mini food erasers. She is absolutely adorable and I was overjoyed to see her playing with her little presents.
As a Christmas gift, I spent after school one day with Teacher Nee-On’s family (her, P’Dream, P’Day, and Natcha). We went out for Pad Thai at my favourite place to get it in town and then got bubble tea at the mall. Teacher Nee-On & her family also bought me a lovely winter hat for my upcoming Nan trip. Their family were some of the people I felt closest to in Thailand and I thought their gift to me was extremely kind. It wasn’t at all about the material things, but more so about spending time together. I appreciated their friendship so much.
I received a few more Christmas gifts. My classmates and my cousin, King, gave me beautiful homemade Christmas cards that I absolutely loved. My friends, Muay and Kua, made me cards & got me little Thai sweets as well. I really appreciated how much they cared about me. Mind gave me a lovely stocking while we were opening Christmas gifts, full of sweet little things like a notebook and some sticky notes. My grandparents sent me a lovely glitter beret and other little gifts. My family in England sent me cards as well. My parents sent me a card too, signed by all our friends back home. My mum sent me a gorgeous blue stone necklace and silver bracelet with an inscription: “My daughter, my love, my little ladybug.” Ladybug is one of my childhood nicknames. I was so happy and full of love that I cried while opening it. I started wearing the jewelry every day and I didn’t take off my necklace until I started doing island trips and I was too nervous that I would lose it. I still wear my bracelet every day.
I ended the day with a lovely dinner with my host family and giving my little sister & cousins their presents. They were ecstatic and surprised by the gifts. My Christmas day in Kamphaengphet was one of my best memories all year long, as I felt full of love and happiness with my new friends and family celebrating my culture.
Christmas in Nan//
I spent my real Christmas day in Nan with Sofia and Gonzague. We started the day with another celebratory morning assembly where we gave candy to all the students and played Christmas quizzes. The Strisrinan English department definitely brought a lot of energy to the ceremony and I felt the same excitement I normally do on Christmas Day morning.
We hung out at school for a little while before going to Sriserm, Daniel’s school, for his Christmas party. We had spent the few days before making Christmas banners with lots of glitter and assembling mini gifts for the students from Arianna so I was excited to see how everything came together. We arrived in the middle of Just Dance Christmas, with Arianna leading the children in an extremely silly and carefree reindeer dance. We joined in, happily making complete fools of ourselves in front of the class. It continued like this for a little while before we started distributing the absolute buffet of snacks and treats that Arianna and the children’s parents contributed to the party. Sofia and Gonzague, who had been volunteering in this class for weeks now, knew all the kids and so they dispersed themselves a bit more as the children loved talking to them about absolutely everything. Daniel sat next to me, passing me all the food he didn’t want or wanted me to have. We talked for a long time and I was honestly fascinated, as he didn’t seem like an eight-year-old at all. Sure, he had the enthusiasm and a very fun-loving spirit, but he was very composed and insightful in conversation in a way most children aren’t. Then, we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon version, also known as the best version) together and I was impressed by how seamlessly Arianna weaved an English lesson into the festivities. The three of us left the school on cloud 9, beyond delighted to share our holiday with children as we would in our home country. We got back to Strisrinan just in time for Baifern’s classroom Christmas party. There was a gift exchange where everyone in the class had a buddy for a serious gift and for a silly one. Sofia received an entire watermelon from her silly partner, which she subsequently carried all day and named. It was much appreciated until dinnertime, when to Sofia’s shock and horror, the watermelon was cut up into small pieces by Mae Jiab. I have never been a big fan of watermelon but boy, did I eat a lot of it just to watch Sofia’s face jokingly distort in shock. It was hilarious. I didn’t have partners, as Sofia’s class weren’t given notice of my arrival which was totally fine with me. However, one of Sofia’s classmates did surprise me with a gift of two absolutely beautiful silk scarves and I was beyond moved by it. She and I had only exchanged a few conversations before that but it really made my day, as she really didn’t have to be so sweet. After the gift exchange, we played some Christmas games including the legendary “cabbage” game. The students wrote dares on a piece of paper and then rolled them all into a huge ball, tied with rubber bands. Then, they played Christmas music for hot potato. Some of them were silly like eating something or doing a funny dance. Sofia and I’s favourite was one, asking two boys to hug. This elicited the class to scream and cover their hands with shock, as this was for them an extreme display of affection in front of everyone. Sof and I appeared as surprised, not by the boys, but the class’s reaction. We turned to find Gonzague, likewise collapsing into laughter from the pandemonium. The party was a load of fun all in all.
We had our Christmas dinner with Kru Nong, Daniel, Gonzague (though he sat at a different table), and some of Kru Nong’s students. We had Mu Kratha again, where I had vegetables, egg, and noodles. Sofia and I then shared a strange dessert of ice with a sort of fruit punch juice on top. We talked with Kru Nong and Daniel about England, AFS, and Kru Nong shared a bit more about her life with us. Gonzague was sitting with some students, including an incredibly brilliant Thai girl with a British accent, later telling me that she was studying English in London on a government scholarship. I had never heard of anything like this before so I was quite amazed. Afterwards, we had a gift exchange with the students and I received a nice mug with the Eiffel tower on it.
Our last celebration was a little gift exchange with Baifern! I gave Sofia her stocking with lots of earrings, inside joke gifts, and more. She gave me a lot of little gifts too, including silly Christmas fuzzy socks and strawberry poptarts from Trader Joe’s (my favourite!) that she had her mum send her from the United States. Sof also gave Baifern and I each a Brazilian wish bracelet that had writing in Portuguese on it. She tied three knots on it around my wrist, each corresponding to a wish I made, and then I waited until it naturally fell off about a month and a half later. Mine was red, which stands for strength and passion. Baifern gave me a lovely hat, matching Christmas pants for all three of us, and a headband. I gave her some earrings. It was really fun excitedly taking turns carefully unwrapping our presents and laughing with joy the whole time.
New Year’s in Nan//
New Year’s Day is celebrated in Thailand, despite the country having a different year calendar and the holiday being celebrated again in April (Songkran) as Thailand’s biggest holiday. So, in actuality, I celebrated the coming of year 2562 this year! As I was still in Nan, I celebrated with Sofia’s host family at a big New Years Day party. Sofia actually wrote a post for YES Abroad that I will link here about her New Years experience that I think perfectly encapsulates the night. I will also share my personal experience that night.
This party was very hyped and we had been preparing for it for a few days, Sofia, P’First, and I had been systematically hanging up balloons and streamers and even a homemade Happy New Year’s sign. The night arrived and Sofia & I were a bit surprised by the arrival of the first guest in Thai 80s style clothes, which are really crazy and colourful as can be. We quickly discovered that there would later be a costume contest and everyone was highly committed to the theme. Sofia and I, not knowing this, were dressed in formal dresses and didn’t really know what to do at that point. Sofia put on one of her bigger colourful shirts over her dress and I just left it, happy to bring out the New Year by wearing a pretty dress on one of the only formal occasions I had to wear it. I later changed into my Christmas pajamas, which made everyone yell in joy. We all put on party hats and huge, silly sunglasses as well.
Dinner was a Thai favourite, หมูกระทะ (or Mu Kratha), the do-it-yourself boiling pot in the middle of the table with plenty of vegetables, meat, noodles, and eggs to go around. I just had a few bites of tofu and vegetables, as I was a bit nervous to share a pot with the meat. P’Jui and P’First (Sofia’s host cousins) came in clutch later though, bringing by pizza just before midnight. Once dinner had finished, the costume contest begun. All the contestants presented themselves on the “stage,” or a part of the front porch elevated by the stairs. Sofia’s host aunts and cousins were using interesting methods to be selected, like pretending to be in a beauty pageant and dancing to both contemporary and traditional Thai songs. Sofia also had her time in the spotlight, thanks to her big flannel. She came onstage and upon her host parents’ encouragement, introduced herself to her audience in Thai as if she’d never met them before, despite having shared her life with everyone for the past six months. Baifern, her host sister, also joined her to help with the Thai translations and to ask her basic questions like “Why were you interested in coming to Thailand?”, “What Thai dishes do you like the most?”, and finally ending with “How do you feel about living with our family?” Sofia paused and then spoke very genuinely with kindness and appreciation for her host family. As she says in her article, “I explained how I feel ridiculously lucky to have ended up with my host family and that I am extremely thankful for them. I told them that I honestly believe they are the best host family I possibly could have gotten and that I’m going to be incredibly sad to leave them when my exchange is over (although I’m sure I will be back to visit them).” As she spoke, Baifern began to cry, which Sofia didn’t notice until after she had finished. Sofia turned to see her and then gave her a huge hug. Hugs and tears are very uncommon in Thailand so this was clearly a huge moment for the two of them. I was videotaping the whole thing and it was one of the sweetest things I’d seen all year. I was so happy for Sofia to have a true family that loved her. Baifern translated through tears what Sofia had said and soon, more members of her host family rushed onstage to take part in a huge hug. Her host cousin even started to cry as well. We voted on the costume contest winners and Sofia unfortunately didn’t make the cut (her aunt and host cousins pulling the W), which makes sense as her costume was pretty weak 555. However, her speech was definitely the highlight of the night. People left before midnight so we rang in the new year mostly with our family, singing Thai karaoke horribly and eating a special New Year’s cake.
We played cards for a while, Baifern winning most hands per usual. We waited until all the guests had left before calling it a day. To be honest, I had a lot on my mind that night and was having a bit of trouble being present. However, I was very happy to be surrounded by such lovely people, seeing Sofia being so wholeheartedly loved by her family, and enjoying the New Year.