Despite the fact that Thailand's population is comprised mainly of Buddhists, the Land of Smiles embraces the festive cheer of the Christmas holiday season with almost as much as gusto its Western counterparts.
Although Christmas appears on the Thai calendar as a regular workday; the country's hospitality and retail sectors start gearing up for the celebrations in mid-November, especially as the festive period coincides with the country's peak tourist season.
Typically, shopping malls across Thailand are adorned with Christmas decorations and those at Bangkok's famous Siam Paragon are particularly special, with Thai and international shoppers flocking to take photographs of the large Christmas tree placed outside the mall every year. Paragon exhibited an impressive display of Christmas cheer this year by organising a publicity stunt to make the largest ever human Christmas tree. A total of 852 schoolchildren dressed in green and red garments smashed the Guinness World Record for the topping the previous number of 672, which was achieved by German participants in 2011. To break the record, all the participants were organised into a tree-like formation on the ground.
Thailand's tropical islands have become a top global destination for holiday-makers over the festive period and many restaurants in destinations like Phuket and Koh Samui take reservations weeks in advance for visitors in search of traditional Christmas dinners. As the trend for private holiday rentals grows in those locations, an increasing number of Christmas guests are also choosing to celebrate the holiday in more exclusive surroundings, where they can cook up their own festive delights in the property's kitchen, or even hire a private chef to prepare the meal.
“I don't know why we have Christmas at this time, but I know it makes everyone very happy and we can give gifts to our family,” said Nithi Pornsawat, who works as a waits on the popular holiday island of Koh Samui. “I think it is also good for young people to learn about another tradition.”
Christmas traditions are also making their way into the working lives of a large proportion of Thailand's population. A number of offices take part in the Western “Secret Santa” tradition, in which workers exchange gifts with their colleagues and many groups of office workers also celebrate the festive season by going for Christmas meals or parties.
“I love Secret Santa,” said Amornpan Wonglack, an accounts executive based in Bangkok. “It is a good chance to have some fun time with your co-workers, and I like to receive a gift even though it is not my birthday.”