While living in Chiang Mai, Thailand and raising my son there, most American traditions and holidays fell by the wayside in favor of the colorful, local celebrations. Christmas, however, stayed on the calendar.
Each December we would decorate a corner of our covered veranda using local greenery, from our yard as the "Christmas tree." We would create homemade paper chains to decorate the giant climbing philodendron that had attached itself to the side of our home. We also cut out paper elephants, stars and snowflakes to hang on our tree and would scour local markets for any interesting, shiny objects that would add to the decorations.
Our Thai neighbors would swing by to admire our handiwork and to weigh in on what they thought would make the Christmas spirits extra happy and generous. With a deep tradition of spirit worship intertwined throughout Thai Buddhist practice, there was plenty of room in their culture to include the kind, jolly, gift-giving Santa. The whole concept loomed large and captivated the local village children.
When long anticipated Christmas Eve finally arrived, the night chill had crept in, and my son was settled in bed, sleeping snugly under his mosquito net, Santa would pay a visit. Mom and dad would extract all the presents, secreted away out of sight, and deliver them to the philodendron "tree."
With squeals of delight, we sat cross-legged on the polished teak floors of our traditional Thai home and opened the few gifts, savoring each.
Then, mid day we would open our home to all the local villagers, inviting them in for food and small gifts. They delighted in the festivities. Whole families would come and bring their musical instruments. We would all sing and enjoy traditional Thai dances long into the candlelit night.
By the time we finally tucked in on Christmas night, we truly had enjoyed the best possible amalgam of two worlds, Western and Eastern, to celebrate our respective traditions with great warmth, sharing and fond memories.