Santa in Chiang Mai
Santa is the most readily recognized icon in the world, researchers say. Children who know nothing about Christmas and have no expectation of Christmas presents from Santa still know who he is. Even where there is a rival, Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas, to name two, children know Santa Claus at sight. If you put any five images on a sheet of paper (Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald, Doraemon, Santa, and Michael Jackson – for example) almost every child over the age of three here in Thailand can spot Santa.
That, however, is pretty much where the matter rests as far as Thai kids are concerned, whereas Santa-culture kids have more ideas.
Our photo downloaded from www.city-now.com entitled “Breakfast with Santa” shows the arrival of Santa by tuk-tuk at the Gymkhana Club in Chiang Mai. We can say this mode of transport would probably only happen in Thailand.
A public reception for Santa arriving by some culturally specific conveyance has become a modern custom over the past few decades. It tends to indicate that Santa is back among us, here, in the present, and the pre-Christmas season is now official.
Christmas as a seasonal concept is catching on in Thailand. December 25 is labeled “Christmas” on a calendar we got this year designating the Buddhist identifications of every day of the year. No shopping mall worth its salt is playing anything but Christmas background music, and there seems to be a contest to see who can construct the tallest, brightest tree-shape – the winner, of course being the mall with the tallest atrium.
Of the thousands of Christian missionaries in our town, it is safe to say a majority have misgivings about the way Santa has usurped the place of the Christ-child in the Christmas spotlight.
But I’m willing to give the jolly old elf his due. As I say in a book entitled Kiddy Lit I’ve just finished drafting, “Santa defies laws and expectations. That is the key to what Santa means subconsciously to children. There are elements of life that may be mysterious, predictable, relevant and unavoidable. They are not all threats, even though they come enshrouded in strangeness. …The future is fraught with the exciting possibility of the return of joy. What’s more, Santa is for kids. Kids are important no matter how powerless they are.” (Contact me if you want to know more about my progress in getting Kiddy Lit published or how to get a pre-publication copy.)
Finally, I would like to insist that Santa is no more a threat to Christ than is the Hobbit. The release of the second part of the Hobbit story this week is no form of robbery of “the true Christmas”. Our children can separate Christ from Bilbo Baggins into separate categories even if their parents are too sober-minded to want them to have to, because “serious Christians” prefer everything to be in the same, single realm of discourse.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.