Celebrating Holidays In Thailand, From Santa To Songkran

Lady-Boys And Flying Deer—Signs Of The Season In Thailand

In my more than two decades as an expat, I’ve always lived in areas heavily populated by foreigners, either resident or tourist. I’ve noticed that retail and hospitality businesses try to accommodate what they think we expats want at certain times of the year.

This is not an attempt at cultural exchange. Holidays are money-makers in any country.

I’m living now in Thailand, and I have to say, I find the Thai take on the antics of foreigners comically refreshing. Thais wrap all foreign holidays into one. The results can be confusing.

Apparently, for example, devil horns that light up are proper attire for all foreign holidays, including Christmas and St. Valentine’s Day.

Most interesting for me is Halloween. Because it is the only holiday that expressly calls for a costume, the Thai people take it as a chance to use all their foreigner holiday stuff from the entire year. Capes, horns, fairy wings, and bunny ears… it’s all about holidays they don’t understand, so they wear it all.

Easily the most entertaining time of year is Christmas. About mid-November we start seeing Santa, candy canes, and reindeers… a lot of reindeers. The Thai people are really taken with the flying deer concept.

But, again, they mash things together and add their own spin.

Last Christmas, for example, I was tromping around Pattaya’s beautiful beachfront Central Festival mall, searching for last-minute gifts. I heard what sounded like Christmas carols being sung and went off in search of the minstrels.

I found them on the third floor. It was a group of lady-boys from the local transgender cabaret show in full costume. One was a glitter-covered Elton John, another a disturbing looking elf covered completely in a red body stocking.

They were drawing quite a crowd, and I had to applaud their enthusiasm. They almost knew the words to several old Christmas classics.

The ultimate irony was the Muslim women taking pictures with them.

It’s just what you want when you’re 10,000 miles away from home at Christmas… a little homesickness and a good laugh.

I try my best to celebrate Thai holidays every year. You’ve probably heard of Songkran which takes place in April. It’s a country-wide drunken water fight.

It’s fun the first time.

This holiday is responsible for the majority of Thailand’s traffic fatalities each year. Imagine 68 million people on the move at the same time, traveling to visit family, drinking heavily, and slinging water at each other.

I celebrate Songkran as many other expats do… by hiding out in the Philippines.

Songkran can last two days (in Bangkok) or two weeks (in Pattaya).

My favorite holiday in Thailand is Loy Kratong, which takes place on the full moon in November. It’s a mix of Thanksgiving and New Year’s celebrations. Thai families get together and send thousands of little boats called kratongs floating on the water or launch candlelit lanterns called com-fi climbing to the moon.

I’ve celebrated Loy Kratong seaside in Phuket, watching thousands of handmade boats lit up with candles drifting out to sea. The best place for Loy Kratong is in Chiang Mai, where the temperatures are cooler and revelers gather on the Ping River to send thousands of paper lanterns carrying their dreams to the heavens.

The King’s birthday in December is celebrated as Father’s Day. The Queen’s birthday in August is Mother’s Day.

Battery-operated devil horns are not recommended for either occasion.

Bart Walters