Who Sets Christmas?
Christmas has changed for me over the years. I can remember how it used to be when I was a little boy, before Santa Claus was demythologized. There was excitement, and sleep-depriving anticipation, with never a hint that it could be otherwise. There was always Santa Claus coming to our house because there were always little children; from the time I was born until my youngest brother was 9, was a period of 22 years. Christmas was a product of other people all that time. We kids were recipients. For a lot of those years Christmas Day included a trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s for a big family dinner that Grandpa mandated. OK, that was block one of my life.
Then I came to Thailand. Big change. Looking back, there was a search many of us here were making for familiar markers. We found them in fragments: simulated Christmas trees, similar food to Christmas fare “back home”, somewhat the same carols, gifts wrapped in paper as close as we could get to Christmas designs. But most of the old Christmas was gone. Block two.
For the next ten years Christmas meant I was in charge of preserving the reason for the season, as the pastor of a church. Our children were small, money was short, we made most of the presents, went to church, and traveled to grandparents, who were now of the next generation younger. Block three.
Then back to Thailand. Commerce had caught up with Thailand by 1979. There was less need to simulate familiar symbols. We could just go buy them, imported right into Tantrapan’s department store. But we missed the family gatherings and expanded our family on Christmas to compensate. About that time we became creative of Christmas traditions without trying too hard to rustle up things from far away out of the dim past.
Twenty-five years later, after the end of block five, Pramote and I are in block six of my Christmas traditions, but it’s block one for him. He was 50 on 12/12/12. For 40 years there was no Christmas in his life. Now we are creating Buddhist-Christian Christmas traditions. We have strung lights in our palm trees and have poinsettias around our terracotta statue of Genesha. We throw a Christmas party for the children in our village school. They know about Christmas, but we help them have it. We let Pramote’s family know its Christmas by giving them presents, and we take presents to my daughter and family in Chiang Mai in the evening. I am now patriarch of the grandparent generation. All the older generation is gone. It’s our turn now. Christmas is what we say it is.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.