This year was the first Christmas I’ve ever been away from home and from my family. I still cannot believe that it was spent here in Thailand.
Before I was placed in my town, I had to make peace with the fact that it was very possible I could be spending Christmas alone in Thailand. I was unsure if there would be any other people in my town celebrating, as Christmas is obviously not a Buddhist holiday. Thankfully, I didn’t spend Christmas alone in my apartment, but instead I was surrounded by tons of new friends who have become a mini family in the short month that I’ve been here.
Christmas Eve day, started with a farang favorite, Le Pain. Bun, the sweetest woman in the whole world, owns the restaurant (which we all go to everyday for lunch) that happens to serve an American breakfast (had to treat myself to some scrambled eggs and bacon for the holiday).
After our breakfast, a few of us headed to The Coffee Tree, a trendy coffee shop with a view of the big lake, for our caffeine fix. Here, we made the spontaneous decision to take the scenic drive to the waterfalls right outside the city.
The drive to the Tat Ton Waterfalls is about 25 minutes by motorbike and is absolutely beautiful. It only takes about 5 minutes to get out of the city and soon you are surrounded by rice fields, small fruit stands, grazing cattle and endless rows of palm trees. There is something about driving through Thailand on my motorbike that makes me joyful to the point of tears (I’ve literally find myself crying while driving on multiple occasions in this country…)
We spent a few hours at the falls taking in the sunshine and the view. It is so crazy that just outside the city, there is this beautiful, natural oasis that I can visit anytime. There were Thai families enjoying picnics, high schoolers hanging out, and lots of people having photoshoots (Thais love taking photos, especially of farangs).
Although it didn’t quite feel like Christmas, I wasn’t disappointed in the lack of tradition. And because it didn’t feel like Christmas, I couldn’t quite be homesick. This entire holiday season hasn’t felt like it was happening to me or that I was even taking part in it. I would see posts on Instagram of people in holiday sweaters, and Christmas trees but on the other side of the world, it’s business as usual. No Christmas music playing in stores, no decorations in windows. No hints or reminders that it was even December at all.
It wasn’t until Christmas Eve dinner at Bun’s that I even felt like it was Christmas at all..
Christmas Eve night, Bun hosted a large group of us teachers for Christmas Eve Dinner. The regular restaurant had been transformed since the morning when I had seen it last. All of the tables were brought outside and arranged into banquet style seatings. Red and green table clothes were draped over them, candles were lit and a fully decorated Christmas tree sat beside us. Bun loaded our plates with duck, pork, chicken, potatoes, and veggies. We even had chocolate cake and ice-cream for dessert. Surrounded by all my new found friends, I was so happy that I didn’t have to spend this Christmas alone and so thankful that I have been placed in such an amazing small town with a tight knit community. I may not have spent Christmas Even with actual family, but I did spend it with a new eclectic family of people from all over the world. We even had a pollyanna gift exchange where I received a cute little minion key chain from Pat Pat, Bun’s son.
Christmas Day, we hopped on our motorbikes again and headed to the new organic farm outside of town. To our surprise, “Jingle Bells” was playing on repeat, there were little children running around in Santa hats, and there was even a Santa in full suit with a cotton ball beard. In typical Thai fashion, we were asked to perform a Christmas concert on stage, hosted by a Lady Boy in high heeled boots (because what is Christmas without your classic Lady Boy MC!?) “It’s the day of farang!” So, we hopped on stage and sang a collection of your typical Christmas classics. We wore Santa hats in 92 degrees, we were the only English speaking people there, and most likely the only ones that actually celebrate Christmas but, it felt nice to sing some songs and get in the Christmas spirit.
Later that night, we all headed to The 1 Bar for a holiday feast, plates piled high just like at home, and even had the little christmas poppers on our plate! I’m used to inappropriate dinner conversation during the holidays, so it was comforting having the most ridiculous conversations with all of my new insane friends (thankfully they’re just as weird as I am).
This Christmas wasn’t filled with the traditions I love like all the cousins opening our stockings at Mom-mom’s on Christmas Eve or my mom’s french toast on Christmas morning or dinner with my Dad’s side of the family or pollyanna with my favorite friends. It wasn’t spent with Tyler on our first (unless 7th grade counts??) Christmas together as a couple and it definitely was not a white Christmas. But, I learned that although tradition is important and has bonded me to my family, opening your heart to new people and new experiences can bring about an unexpected sense of togetherness and familiarity, even with strangers.