What I Learned From Thai Christmas Caroling

From the ages of 11 to 18, I was a MK in Bangkok, Thailand. Every year around Christmas time, my Thai youth group and I would go Christmas caroling. I know you’re envisioning a group of people bundled in coats and hats standing in your driveway singing. But that’s not what it was like in Thailand. It’s hot year-round there, so no scarves or bundling needed!

We also didn’t walk through neighborhoods; we piled into a big van and drove from house to house. This worked because we drove to church members’ houses. My parents kept trying to convince the Thais to choose a few neighborhoods and travel on foot, singing Christmas carols as an evangelism or ministry technique, but for the Thais, Christmas carols were for the church members, and they wouldn’t be swayed.

There is one more little difference between American Christmas caroling and Thai Christmas caroling: Thai caroling lasts all night long.

So we traveled by van to our church friends’ homes throughout the night. When we arrived at a home, we stood outside the gate and sang our carols, and then we slipped off our shoes and entered the home, where the host would have refreshments for us. After stuffing ourselves, we loaded up in the van, drove to the next house, and did it all again.

It was really comical when we’d arrive at the home of someone who was traveling with us. He or she would jump out of the van, run inside the house, turn on the lights, throw some food on the table, and come back out to the driveway to hear us sing.

We would end up at the last person’s house just in time for breakfast. The sun would be rising, and the city would be waking up. We would sit on mats or cushions and slurp our rice soup, our eyes bleary and red from lack of sleep. Then someone would crack a joke, and we’d all laugh, knowing that despite the fact that our bodies were weary and stuffed with food, we’d never trade that night for anything. It was as if time slowed down, pulling us into its arms and protecting us. For those ten hours, pain and worry couldn’t touch us; there was only the joy of being together.

One of my favorite Christmas caroling outings was on a trip back to Bangkok during college. Caroling was on Christmas Eve that year, and my house was the last one. We got there around 4 am, and after an hour of merriment and food, my friends finally left and I slept for two hours, got up to open presents with my parents and brother, and then we all headed to airport to catch a flight to Singapore at noon. I was exhausted, but after a few years of being away, I was blissfully at home again.

The Thai way of Christmas caroling may seem absurd to Westerners. Yet it taught me that sometimes fellowship is more important than time. No one there cared about counting the hours or rushing back home by a certain time; all that mattered was that we were together. In our rush of busyness, I think we can benefit from learning to slow down and spend uncounted time with our loved ones.

Thai caroling also taught me the power of joy. Every part of those nights was jubilant, from the mesh of voices singing to the hosts giggling as they served us food to the loud van rides from house to house. When I would get home in the morning, my veins would still be pumping with adrenaline, and my heart would be full.

I think we sometimes forget to practice joy. We wait for it to find us in the midst of our stressful lives. Maybe we need to seek it out more, either in middle of our everyday routines or in spontaneous, fun-loving acts. If you’re looking for joy, a starry night and a van full of Thai young people is a great place to start.

Have you gone caroling with local friends? What’s your experience been like?

Photo Credit: Paulisson Miura via Compfight cc

11 Comments

  1. Beth Everett December 11, 2014

    What a great Christmas experience and memory to have!
    Having grown up in the Caribbean, my childhood Christmas memories are also more tropical in nature. Of particular, singing Christmas carols at 5:00 on Christmas morning, in the large tent that housed the church my father started (read into that that we actually were at church more like 4:30am being the pastor’s family and all!). We would watch the sun rise as we sung those Christmas songs. Christmas carols in the Caribbean also have a definite rhythm to them, especially when accompanied by the steel pan (steel drum), so there was quite a bit of swaying too! Fun memories!

    1. Brittany December 12, 2014

      Beautiful!  Reminds me of Easter sunrise services.  I would love to start Christmas morning watching the sunrise and singing carols!  Not possible here in Romania since the sun probably wouldn’t be visible and it’d be way too cold, haha.  Sounds like great memories.

  2. Karissa Knox Sorrell December 11, 2014

    Wow, what a beautiful memory! It’s fun to envision that, and to share Christmas traditions from around the world.

  3. Kristina Krauss December 11, 2014

    ooooooooo what a fun read! Your description is exactly what I went thru with the youth group here in Mexico, only for mothers day! The traveling in the back of the truck, singing to the mothers of the church, refreshments at each stop, and all night long! There is nothing like those MK memories. jejejeje One time while back in the states we sang for a few mothers of the church, and I will never forget my future father-in-law coming out in his underwear, totally shocked at the young people singing on his porch. Needless to say, he didn’t serve us any refreshments, and my future mother-in-law never even came outside! My mom however was thrilled, served us goodies, and enjoyed the memories of her life in Mexico. Like you said, its all about the people!

    1. Brittany December 12, 2014

      Haha, that’s hilarious!  We tried caroling late into the night in the States one year, but got in trouble and decided it wasn’t worth getting arrested!  Ha!

       

  4. Failure and Hope | Karissa Knox Sorrell December 11, 2014

    […] published at a beautiful website for women living overseas called Velvet Ashes. My essay is titled What I Learned From Thai Christmas Caroling and shares some cool holiday memories from my years as an […]

  5. Brittany December 12, 2014

    In Romania we do all night caroling too.  On a short term trip when I was a teenager, I loved it!  As a mama of two toddlers now (and another on the way), I must say I’m dreading it this year.  I’ll enjoy it for probably the first hour or two, but then, all I will want to do is go home to my nice warm bed and SLEEP.  Last year was really hard with my two littles.  They were exhausted.  It’s the Romanian way to have the whole family involved, but it’s also the Romanian way to keep your kids up late into the night every night when our kids go to bed around 8!  So I had cold, cranky, wanna-be-in-bed kiddos and I was right there with them.  I’m really, really trying to gear myself up for it this year because we will be in a very special village that we love dearly.  I pray that God gives me (and my littles!) the strength we need for the night!  I’m hoping we can have the afternoon to sleep really well so we are rested for a good night of caroling.

  6. Kristina Krauss December 12, 2014

    Oh my goodness Brittany!!  I totally agree with you. It is one thing for me to have wonderful memories of my youth and kickin it with the youth group all night long. It would be a totally different thing to have to do it now. I have to be honest, nothing would keep me out all night now! jajajajja I don’t even have little ones! Im 41 though, and I have chronic migraines, so staying out all night would give me a beast of a headache. Soooooooooooo regardless of the cultural values, I would only participate for the first 2 hours, and then home to BED! (with lots of apologies n stuff….) jajajajjaja!

    1. Karissa Knox Sorrell December 12, 2014

      Yeah, I’d have a hard time staying up all night now! But those were really fun youth group memories.

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