It’s odd to come to a Buddhist country and find yourself inundated with fake Christmas trees, twinkling blue lights and holiday carols being blared at markets and shops everywhere. But it’s also kind of endearing. Christmas is a reason to celebrate. We like to decorate and eat and share gifts with our loved ones. Moreover, it is cause for shopping and what Thai could resist all of that? It’s a holiday made for this culture. My host in Chiang Mai could not stop going on about the excitement over fruitcakes, and I’m pretty sure the gal singing Hallelujah at the shopping center across from my hotel is having a great time of it.
Why is it so weird for Western travelers to see this tradition adapted and adopted then? I think it stems from the search for the Other. We travel across the globe and see sights we might find in our hometown. This could be disconcerting, if not disappointing. But in my opinion, that’s a bit of misguided thinking. It’s a denial of the global exchange of ideas and values that take place millions of times every day. While one might look at this as a tainting or degrading of the culture, this completely misses the reality that cultures are fluid, always changing, far from static. The yearning for a time capsule of culture is going to be more and more of a letdown the further we seek a type of “pure” authenticity that doesn’t exist.
So sing on with those Christmas tunes, and keep displaying those lit up snowmen and trees. Like it or not, that is part of the truth of the people living here. And who doesn’t love a good twist, twists we’d never be able to come up with, on a holiday nobody owns?