One of the things that I forgot in the years that I was away from Thailand was the tradition of Christmas caroling the way that Thai Christians do it. You haven’t really done it until you have done it here and, once you have earned your stripes, they never forget… and neither do you! The beginning is innocuous enough: A group people pile into a car or van and drive to someone’s home. Once there, they pile out of the car, gather around the front door, hit a few chords on the guitar, and beginning singing familiar Christmas songs. Having sung a few songs, the group sings “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to end the concert. The lights in the house come on and the “carolees” (as opposed to “carolers”) come out to greet the group and invite them in for refreshments.
That’s where all similarity to any caroling I have done in the USA ends. It is not just the last house that invites the carolers in – it is EVERY house. It is not just the last house that offers “refreshments” – it is EVERY house. And, in Thailand, “refreshments” do not consist of a sweet and a hot cup of something – it is a FULL MEAL, sitting down at a table and chowing down on rice and curry, noodles and soup, fresh fruit and dessert. Thus, a caroling stop can take from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half. And carols are not just sung to households of one church in a small geographic area – they are sung to ANYONE identified as being important to someone and they might live as far away as 120 kilometers (a 90-minute drive).
The end result is that a Christmas caroling adventure with a list of 13 households to visit turns into an all-night blowout. We left the office at 6 PM on Friday to drive to the first house and we had breakfast on the patio of the last house as dawn broke over the rice fields of Ratchburi 120 kilometers from Bangkok. I lost count of the number of times we got lost and had to call for instructions. I lost count of the times we sang “Joy to the World” and other Christmas favorites. I staggered into my house at 10:30 AM on Saturday, hoarse, bleary-eyed and stumbling. I managed to stay awake until 5 PM, when I finally gave up the ghost and went to bed, sleeping without any problems until dawn on Sunday. But I would not trade those 16 hours of singing, laughing, sharing stories and eating goodies beyond full for anything. That group from work will be my buddies forever! Merry Christmas!