BANGKOK: I’ve never been the most Christmas and New Year-crazed of people. Not even as a kid. Surely it might have had something to do with the obvious fact that I was the child of divorced parents, a status that involves quite a fair bit of diplomatic thinking around holiday times. Still, I don’t believe that to be the reason for my less-than-lovely outlook on this season of white glee. I think the real reason has always been one based on disgust for hysteria and stress. Bear with me, please.
Nothing is ever all bad. I’m not the Grinch though my current complexion does resemble something bordering on green, which is amazingly far from lovely seeing as I’m surrounded by a family of golden-skinned, permanently-tanned family members.
I did grow up with some absolutely wonderful Christmas times, frost-rimmed with that special morning snow that only Scandinavia can offer. Tobogganing down the hills was a must, only to take cold-bitten cheeks and snow-stuffed boots inside for a de-frosting session powered by cocoa and homemade gingersnap biscuits straight from the oven. Cakes were baked, and gifts wrapped. I always made sure to put out warm oatmeal porridge for Santa Claus, topped with stirred lingonberries, butter and milk in traditional Swedish fashion.
There is no doubt that Christmas and New Year is wonderful holiday, and one of the most tradition-associated ones we have. Still – and perhaps in parallel with growing older – Christmas season has felt more and more lost in a peculiar kind of vacuum to me. The magic of childhood expectations have naturally faded ever so slightly, but along with them I seem to have lost some of my belief in what role this holiday season has in people’s lives.
I saw it in the supermarket queue, as multi-tasking stress cases resembling mothers elbow their way ahead without recognising me as a breathing form of being. I noticed it in roundabouts, as Christmas tree-transporting fathers cut me off without as much as a signal as to where they are going. It’s even obvious in examples (to be unnamed – but certainly shamed) of my extended family, when they forget my sister’s mid-December birthday on account that “oh, you know how it is, oh so busy around here this time of year”. Nah, I don’t really get it anymore.
And so, this year I’ve taken action. Via a family-and-friends-related visit to a misty Scandinavia, where I did take part in traditions that hold real value to me, I decided to advance a long-awaited trip to see my father, stepmother and little brother in Bangkok, Thailand.
One of the first things I noticed when stepping onto the gate bridge at Suvarnabhum airport – nobody seems to find any reason to complain. It’s a trait that has grown very close to my heart, something I notice every time I try to describe the enormous warmth that is the Thai people.
For there is little stress to be found around these streets. Even less hustle and bustle. In my around ten visits to this country over five years, I can count on zero fingers the occasions at which I have found myself physically violated by a holiday-stressed-out mother with a stroller for a weapon. I can name zero people I have found to be stressed in any capacity of the word. No fathers transporting anything make me fear the loss of my own life just because it happens to be a holiday season.
The doormen and piccolos at hotels I’ve stayed at remember me four years after I was last there. They point at me and my father, smile and say “ahhh, same face, and same face”. Just another day, they seem to think, only four years later on. They take the time to sit down and play with my 2,5-year-old brother, the family’s newest and most irresistible addition. And they take the time to look me in the eye and wish me welcome back.
For us Christmas was a modest venture, with all the heart and warmth one family can encompass. We silently decided on a mutual strategy of calming the heck down. No mountain of gifts, and that was exactly what we wanted. For me it was like that song – “I’ll be home for Christmas”. No snow is to be seen, but you know what? It feels just like is should. Like home.
In the words of my stepmother: “It’s just Thai style”