Buddhists Celebrating Christmas in Thailand

A Buddhist Christmas

The idea of Buddhists celebrating Christmas might seem like a strange idea. Why should they? After all this festival has little to do with them. On the other hand, there can be some very good reasons for some of us to continue celebrating Christmas even though we don’t belong to that particular religion anymore.

Should Buddhists celebrate Christmas?

Should Buddhists celebrate Christmas? This is a question that often crosses my mind at this time of year. It is not just something that I ponder as an intellectual exercise, but more because I have a son whose life will be impacted by my decision. I am philosophically a Buddhist, and my wife is a religious Buddhist. My son will be able to decide on his religion when he is old enough, but until then most of his influences will be Buddhist (especially as we live in country where over 95% of the population are Buddhist).

I am originally from Ireland, and have always loved Christmas. I stopped viewing myself as a Christian in my early teens, but I still continued to celebrate that day. This might seem odd to some people, but my view is that it is still a part of my culture. In fact we had a festival at this time of year long before the Christians arrived on the scene. If you look at many of the traditions surrounding Christmas (such as ivy, the Christmas tree, and present giving) you will find that many of these were already part of European winter festivals – they have nothing really to do with Christianity. So in a way there is probably enough within the festival that is non-Christian as there is Christian.

Please don’t get me wrong here, I am not trying to downplay in any way the association of Christmas and Christians; after all, the name is a big giveaway. I am just saying that seems acceptable for people from other religions and agnostic Buddhists like me to also celebrate this time of year. I like many things about this special day; I want my son to appreciate the excitement of it all. If he ever asks me questions about the story behind the Christian idea of Christmas then I’ll do my best to answer the question as openly and honestly as I can. I want him to be open to all religions and to choose the one that best suits him when the time is right. If he wants to be an atheist then that will have to be OK too.

A Happy Buddhist Boy on Christmas Day

I personally see no contradiction with Buddhist celebrating Christmas; or indeed people of no faith celebrating it. These festivals can be a time to remember some important ideas like the joy of giving and hope for the future. Christmas is not really celebrated in Thailand; although each year the big department stores and supermarkets are doing all they can to change this. We will be celebrating it in our home though, and my son will be able to enjoy it if we make trips back to Ireland at this time of year in the future.

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16 thoughts on “Buddhists Celebrating Christmas in Thailand

  1. Paul, I think it’s great that there are Buddhists that celebrate Christmas. I’ve never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday myself and I know many others don’t either. I instead celebrate it as a time for family and love…and who can’t get behind family and love?

    1. Hi Tim, I think you are right about it being a good time to celebrate family. My wife loves the whole Santa Claus thing and this was my favourite memory as a child. I wouldn’t want my son to miss out on that.

  2. Christmas as we know it now, came from the USA begin 20th century and I guess it’s no worse than Buddhists celebrating Christmas as they celebrate Valentines-day, which was first introduced into Asia by a Japanese chocolate manufacturer. Santaclaus is based on St. Nicolas and his birthday is celebrated for many centuries in the Netherlands along with giving each other presents similar to Christmas, but then on the 5th of December. Originally the’re is nothing Christian about Christmas. It used to be a pagan fest as the days got longer people went to celebrate this occasion in the forest and decorate the trees (hence the Christmas tree) and making sounds with pots and pans, to get rid of evil ghosts (now fireworks). How convenient to make it coïncide with JC’s birthday.

    1. Hi I-Nomad, I think the early Christians realised that the best way to stop people celebrating their pagan festivals was to make them Christian. It is logical and happens here in Thailand too; after all Loy Kratong is believed to be a Hindu festival but it is now celebrated by Buddhists. In Ireland it is believed that many of the Irish saints (people like St Brigid) were actually pagan gods; the Christians made them saints to win the followers of these gods. Some Christian groups in places like Thailand have done a similar thing; they have produced false documents that claim the Buddha prophesised the arrival of Jesus. It is all a bit cynical but such is life.

  3. On my recent trip to Bangkok I was quite surprised to see a few Christmas decorations. I suppose I should have expected it given that the decorations were in the big stores. Motivated no doubt by getting folk spending on gifts.

    My childhood memories of Christmas based on being a Christian and celebrating Christ’s birth clash with the commercialised offering you now find in the UK.

    Here in Thailand, the locals have a knack of adopting things they like from other cultures and religions, fine in my book, take it or leave it, its up to you.

    Come December 25th I will be quite happy to spend my time doing what I do most days with a few additional phone calls to friends and family as they tuck i9nto their turkey back home.

    1. Hi Mike, it is only really since my son was born that it has become an issue for me. One year it was midday before I even remembered it was Christmas; that was when I was living in a Thai village.

  4. Paul, I personally don’t see anything wrong with Thai Buddhists adapting to Christmas. Many Thais, even as adults, still have the child in them and Christmas surely is a great thing for kids.

    I remember celebrating Christmas as a kid with my parents in Switzerland where I grow up. Good dinner, no turkey though, and the presents in the morning of the 25th. Very exciting indeed.

    When I grow older, it was just dinner with the parents, they are strong believers and then to the pub for the big Christmas piss up. When 23 years old, my first visit to Thailand, to escape the whole Christmas “farce”. I became an Atheist by then, and thought that Christmas is just a business making festivity.

    The last, I don’t know how many Christmas, I have spent in Thailand, preferably in a nice beach resort. Only thing different to other days would be to call me parents on that day.

    Since I got married 9 years ago, we do have a little special Christmas dinner and my wife loves to indulge in Tesco with all the Christmas stuff. No problem for me, as long as it makes her happy.

    Would I spend one day a Christmas in Spain, we moved there some years back, then I surely would visit my parents for some nice Christmas dinner.

    Btw, traditionally, we don’t exchange presents during Christmas in Spain. For us it is the 6th January, the Three Kings Day, when we do it. If I remember it right, it was that day, when JC got his presents as well.

    Last one, I don’t by my wife Christmas or Valentines Day presents, I don’t like to be told when I have to buy her presents. I do it, whenever I feel it’s appropriated not when the big malls tell me so. LOL

    Sorry for long reply…

    1. I don’t really exchange gifts with my wife either. Everthing these days goes to our son. My wife isn’t big into buying things for herself. Surprisingly even when I go to buy something for myself I come back with something for my son instead – a huge change for me. Maybe having a child does something to the selfish gene 🙂

  5. “Should Buddhists celebrate Christmas?”

    I’ve never really looked on Buddhism as a religion so for me it meshes quite well with all religions. Yes, I realise that this is debatable…

    Paul, as you know I’m a nonbeliever. But even so, I believe that children should learn about their own culture (holidays, religions, etc) even if there is no intent on believing or celebrating (I’m a firm believer in reading the bible). Learning/celebrating binds them with the people in their lives.

    For your son, learning about or celebrating Christmas would give him an connection and understanding with family in your home country.

    And for many families Christmas is more of a family celebration rather than a religious one. My father was an atheist and as far as I know, never objected to trimming a tree (but like many fathers, he did complain about the cost of presents).

    When living overseas we don’t celebrate national holidays from either home country (my husband comes from a different nationality). But we do talk about their history and place in the world. Celebrated are Christmas and birthdays. New Years Eve is often waved at. The holidays in the countries we reside in are experienced (when possible).

    Holidays are a fun way to learn about the different cultures and what makes them tick. Not learning about the holidays in your home country or the country of your parents disconnects you in many ways.

    1. Hi Catherine, how did you get to be so sensible? I think you are definitely right about the connection with my family in Ireland and this was the main deciding factor. I could just imagine the trouble if he were to have the Santa conversations with his young cousins – at least now they will all be on the same page.

    1. I think that it is a great idea. I’ve always been impressed by Ajaan Sumedho. He seems so down to earth and his laugh is fantastic. I know he is in his seventies now but I hope he comes back to Thailand to teach. I like the story of how he once told Ajahn Chah off.

  6. Paul I’ve spent the last five or six Christmas’ in Wilai’s Isaan village and the only sign of the festive season comes from our house. Our Christmas tree and lights attract a lot of the Thai kids but outside of our gate ” Do they know it’s Christmas time at all.”

    I think it will snow in Africa before rural Isaan can afford the commercialism attached to Santa Claus. Plus they’d probably eat the reindeer.

  7. Celebrate diverity. with globalization encompassing much of the world it is ironic that political correctness in the usa forbids saying merry christmas. Hell in so many countries the shopping malls are decorated to the hilt. just came back from muslim indonesia………commercial christmas is what i call it……and my thai friends came over last year and fixed christmas dinner. mind you not turkey an cranberry, but still was nice. and of course the thais have like 12 new year celebrations, an for the dec 31 they give each othe small gifts……….so celebrate diviversity

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