I’m Christmas-ing in Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai with eight fellow Fulbrighters. It won’t be American Christmas style, it won’t be Luke 2 Christmas style, and it won’t be family Christmas style…but it will be eight Americans in Thailand Christmas style.
Thai Christian Christmas Fiesta
My Thai pastor entreated me to abandon church before it even started on Sunday and drive out to, as he put it, “the son church” of this “father church.” The son church was sponsoring a community-wide Christmas service. (Success! I’m a little Thai church ambassador already.)
One can’t expect much in Thailand, but what I definitely didn’t even think about (not) expecting was cramming into the back seat of the car with three elderly Thai women. Another of their cohort sat in front after I absolutely refused that auspicious seat. The women huffed and puffed up into the SUV on the arm of the most sincere pastor. These tiny, withered, holy creatures – who had most magnificent hands – squished together clutching their Bibles. I couldn’t contain frequent bursts of laughter during the 20-kilo drive.
My adorably ancient but assertive seatmates conferred amongst themselves about how to best elicit personal information from me. But it was I who found out the best personal information of all – one of the women rides her bike 30 kilometers to church every Sunday. She’s 86 years old and bikes 30 kilos each way! I have so much to learn in life.
The “son church” building was smaller, but the sheep were more plentiful! Representatives from churches around Uttaradit came to worship, sing, and give gifts. (For those curious about Uttaradit Province deets, while we drove through the neighboring LapLae district to church, I realized that LapLae is the most bustling district of Uttaradit.) Twenty-five children pranced about before the service in the yard but exhibited the most admirable service etiquette: my new three (much younger) seatmates shushed me when I asked what page to turn to.
Even so, the children became my Thai-church-survival guides. Before the service, they drilled me for a good 20 minutes in Thai reading, and they guided me silently through the bulletin during the service, evaluating my literacy progress. My progress: not noteworthy. The service reminded me of home, mainly because children performed an interpretive Christmas dance alternating between smirking, laughing, and sincerity. Three kids sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and forced the congregation to follow along in English, which was my moment of glory.
Thai peeps love giving presents in the most mundane of times, so Christmas is a legit present mudslide for Thai Christians. They sporadically gave presents throughout the service. The elders all received two brooms, which is either a tradition that entirely went over my head…or not a tradition?
Apparently someone drew names from a basket to award presents. I definitely never put my name in that basket, but they managed – in Thai hospitality style – to call my name anyhow. I actually understood their Thai as they beckoned me forward, but I faked cluelessness for two reasons: 1) Grengjai, or the feeling of indebtedness, and 2) the knowledge that if I was wrong about getting a gift, it could be rawwwther embarrassing. So I waited it out like a deer in the headlights until my three drill sergeant babies straight up pushed me off the bench. And guess what the good people of Uttaradit gave the pet farang girl – toilet paper and a flowery plate! They rightly supposed that if they’re going to give out toilet paper, they might as well give it to the squat toilet skeptic.
We feasted afterward – peeps love their food around here. Before the adorable ancients quizzed me in all things Me on the ride home, ten women jointly gifted me an enormous amount of local fruit dessert.
***An unnecessary word about Thai church makeshift pews – I think they are wooden bus station benches. Remind me about this if I ever need to furnish a church.