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?