On December 22, the day before I was to leave for the beach, our English department hosted an all-day show. When it comes to entertainment, the Thais don’t mess around. The cafeteria was transformed into a Christmas ballroom with enough seating space for all 2,500 students and some 100 teachers. Along with greens and reds, any bright color was appropriately festive for our Thai Christmas.
The day began with a student dance-off. Representatives from each class performed a dance of their choice, though most chose traditional Thai variations which cannot be acted without complete Thai costume and makeup similar to mine on Loy Krathong. Not really knowing what was planned for the day (communication is always fuzzy), I knew to expect a spectacular lady-boy presentation after watching them practice in my office for hours the day before. Well, if playing music, shaking out a few provocative moves and then fixing each others hair bows and makeup counts as practice, then I guess that’s what they were doing. It was entertaining.
The third act was mine. The two other foreign English teachers and I were asked to perform a 15-minute skit about Christmas. It could be anything we wanted, and it had to be a surprise. Sure, it’s easy to think of a Christmas skit, but one that the students might actually understand was a challenge. So we went as simple as we could.
We argued about which one of us was the real Santa Claus, and then had a talent show/sing off. Jon opened presents, I brought three little elves on a sleigh (we dressed a few of the smallest students we could find in elf attire and set them in a large, decorated wagon), and David was a lady-boy Santa. At the end, the students voted by cheering. The boys came prepared to lose.
The afternoon passed with a costume contest. Participating students strutted down a cement runway (the cafeteria floor between students) in astonishing garb. They began getting ready for hours before school started. In Thailand, everybody loves to dress up. They also love to put on shows, and stages can sprout up in the middle of streets, empty lots or back yards for such elaborate ordeals. Entire days are dedicated to a particular event.
Some 90% of Thais are Buddhist and Christmas is a Christian holiday, but they’ll take any reason to have a party. Removing any religious affiliation allows them to celebrate only the parts of Christmas they enjoy – like singing carols and exchanging gifts, though the latter usually occurs during the New Year celebration (another non-traditional holiday; the Thai New Year is in April).
Nobody knows the difference between Christmas and New Year, so while our school has separate celebrations for each (any excuse to cancel class), most people tend to celebrate them together, on January 1, by exchanging gifts and wishing each other a merry Christmas.
Our celebration was quite festive, but I believe it was only an introduction to the upcoming one.