Christmas Around the World: Thailand

Last year, we spent time in December studying Christmas traditions in some of the countries we'd been learning about in our world geography curriculum. This year, we decided to take a December break from our study of ancient history and general science to learn about the other countries featured in the book we'd used as our main resource, Celebrate Christmas Around the World (CCAW) by Teacher Created Resources. Among other things, I really like that this book unashamedly gives full credit to the birth of Christ as the impetus behind the holiday as it is recognized today, even as it also includes information about various secular aspects of each country's celebration.

In terms of literature, I've listed everything I found on our bookshelves and/or at our local library. Of course, you likely won't find all these titles where you are, but you can no doubt discover plenty of good alternatives if you have a halfway decent library. I also listed everything I found - but, of course, we're not reading it all, especially on days for which I located many resources. Instead, we're generally choosing two or three stories a day, a couple for our morning group time and and perhaps one more to enjoy over lunch.

In contrast, though CCAW contains a wealth of ideas for each country, I've only listed the activities we're actually doing. That's because listing everything would be both overwhelming and, most likely, a violation of copyright law. So I encourage you to buy the book for yourself to see the rest of the ideas.

We're only spending one day on each country so it will be a whirlwind tour. But I think that's just enough to facilitate some good learning right along with having seasonal fun. So, if you're looking for a nice mix of instructive but not-too-overwhelming activities to do over the next few weeks, join us on all or even part of the journey. And please let me know if you do!



Not surprisingly, given that most people in Thailand are Buddhist, I did not find any library materials specifically describing Christmas in Thailand. Instead, since we'd not previously studied Thailand (other than to learn its location through last year's Geography Game), I read Ericson's book (below) about the country and the lullaby book to provide a cultural framework. Then I shared the brief description in CCAW about Thai Christmas celebrations and read the wonderful letter sent me by a friend who has lived and worked in Thailand for many years, the text of which I included below. The girls have met this friend several times when she's come to dinner during trips to our area, which made for a very unique personal connection for us all.
  • Celebrate Christmas Around the World, p. 84, by Teacher Created Resources;
  • Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho;
  • Thailand by Alex Ericson;
  • Discovering Cultures: Thailand by Dana Meachen Rau;
  • a personal letter sent to us by a college friend currently living and working in Thailand.

According to CCAW, "because of its importance to Thailand, the Christian symbol of the fish is an obvious [craft] choice" (84). Thus, we modified the instructions in CCAW to make a Fish Decoration:
  1. Use cardstock to make a fish pattern copy for each child;
  2. Have each child use bright paints, sequins, glitter, and stickers to decorate her fish pattern;
  3. Glue the fish onto a bright piece of construction paper and decorate that, too, if desired.

Other Activities:
In the afternoon, the girls watched a version of The King and I, again to give them a glimpse of Thai culture. We chose the Warner Bros. animated version, which is closely based on the original Rodgers and Hammerstein live-action production. We also looked at and talked about photographs sent by our friend who currently lives in Thailand and another who has visited there.

Our friend who lives there said that Christmas foods are what "they normally have for any large gathering, like for weddings, funerals and other celebrations, like various beef dishes (especially 'lapp' or grilled beef) or fish. Desserts would be something with coconut milk, like a black sticky rice pudding, or tapioca (like the pink and green stuff at Hmong New Year parties)."

I'd originally planned to try making the pudding and a beef stir fry dish at home - our friend told me I could pick up the black sticky rice from her mom, who lives in town, and I have several Hmong friends who could have helped me with authentic recipes for stir fry (and tapioca). But weekend activities got in the way of that. So instead, I opted to take the girls to a Chinese restaurant for lunch, where we ordered a beef dish. Obviously, that wasn't entirely authentic, but it at least gave them a personal experience eating Asian food.

Depending on where you live, perhaps you can seek recipe ideas from Thai and/or Hmong friends. Or you may even be able to patronize a Thai restaurant instead of just a Chinese one.

Language Arts:
We've started new Christmas Around the World booklets for each child by using the Charlotte Mason-style narration method.

The older girls (ages nine and 10) wrote (in rough-draft version) three to five facts they learned about Christmas in Thailand, edited the sentences, and then used that information for copywork, adding their own illustrations. Anna (age five) dictated and then copied one or two facts she learned and then added a related illustration. At the end of our study, I'll bind each child's book as a keepsake.

This being the first day of our current year's project, I also had each child make a cover for her book.

Letter from Our Friend:

The two rural churches [I know of]  like to invite their relatives and neighbors to church on Christmas for a meal and a sort of gift exchange. A few of those people will come to the service, others just come for the meal and gifts... Their favorite thing is to prepare a whole cow! (They used to be a part of the international Heifer Project, so the church had its own cows. Even now though, it is much cheaper for them to buy a whole cow and kill it themselves, and then use every single part of the cow.) I can't really think of any foods that they have special on Christmas. It would be foods that they normally have for any large gathering, like for weddings, funerals and other celebrations, like various beef dishes (especially "laap" or grilled beef) or fish. Desserts would be something with coconut milk, like a black sticky rice pudding, or tapioca (like the pink and green stuff at Hmong New Year parties).
There are about a dozen traditional Christmas hymns that have been translated into Thai, so they like to sing those as soon as it starts cooling off, sometimes October or December. (Remember that "cooling off" is very relative, but this Sunday, the guy leading the service really said, "Hey, it's cool season, let's sing Christmas songs!"). There are one or two Thai style songs for Christmas too, I think.

So the service would be a pretty typical service. Then everyone would have a meal together in traditional local style. That means laying out several large woven plastic mats, dishing up the food into lots of serving bowls or plates, then putting several of each dish in little groupings or sometimes rows, so that all the people can sit on the mats around the food. They eat with their hands mostly, or some spoons are used, but everyone is eating out of shared serving dishes.

After the meal they have the gift "exchange." I've heard that in Thai churches in the city, it is an exchange, where each person brings a gift, then numbers are put on the gifts, and each person draws a number to see which gift they will get. Here in the village the gifts are bought with donations, since people in the village really don't have much and the church wants to...show love to them. Everyone gets a number, and then a second set of numbers [is] used to call for who gets each gift. They love to keep people in suspense and make it fun, like having the last gift be an extra large prize like a bicycle. But everyone goes home with something, usually practical things like food or household items, shampoo, detergent, clothes.

As for a craft project, I wish I knew how to make the stars they like to make here. I think the tradition came through the Catholic churches, who have a Christmas day parade with a competition for making stars to carry in the parade. (I've only heard about it, never seen it.) But [other churches] also makes those stars. They use thin sticks from a local plant (you could also use balsa wood, I think, or maybe even straws, something strong but flexible), to make a 3-dimensional frame, and then cover it with tissue paper.

The first few years here I was rarely driving after dark so I didn't realize that the Catholic towns follow the tradition of using lights for decorations. Now we make sure to drive through the nearby towns with Catholic churches to see the Christmas lights and stars. It's not quite the same as at home, but at least it's just lights, not all the gaudy commercialized stuff. Speaking of that, the stores (especially the chains from Europe) really like to promote Christmas, so they will be playing Christmas carols and wearing Santa Claus hats and other promotional gimics. There wasn't much at all when I first moved here, but it has increased steadily over the...years.

Oh, one last thing. [In a different city,] I remember that the churches had a strange version of Christmas caroling. They (usually the young people, but sometimes anyone) would go out in the middle of the night, usually around midnight, to the houses of different members of the church and sing Christmas carols. The family being sung to is expected to get up and offer some drinks or treats to the visitors! I think this is quite common in neighboring Asian countries, may have originated in the Philippines?

Oh, one funny comment. I often hear this loud digital version of a few bars of "Jingle Bells" off in the distance somewhere in the neighborhood, year round! For the longest time I thought it was an ice cream truck (which are actually motorcycle carts here, not trucks). But recently I found out that it is the school bell between classes!!


Photo Credits: cindy251978 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/cindyandmike/5235595925/), Kathy Koch, and LM.

1 comment:

Carla Gade said...

What a super post telling about your creative idea! I love it! What a rich homeschool lesson and family lesson. Blessings!

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