I’m not someone who loves Christmas but I do enjoy the time off work, seeing family and eating a load of food. Unfortunately, a number of new arrivals to Thailand will soon be finding out that they will be expected to report for duty on December 25th.
The first year I arrived, I was one of these teachers facing a 6.00 am alarm and a full day at work on Christmas Day. For some reason I had just presumed it would be a day off for foreign teachers. It was only around three weeks before the big day that I was reminded that I was expected to be at work.
Happy bloody Christmas
Admittedly I probably didn’t have the best attitude about working Christmas. The whole of December had been focused on doing Christmas activities with all my classes. I was sick of the sight of DIY Christmas cards and letters students had written to Santa as a writing activity. I had also spent a couple of weeks preparing a Christmas performance with the other foreign teachers in the school. I certainly wasn’t merry and at 6.00 am on the big day I just thought about getting through it the best I could.
Arriving at school that day I was hit with the realization that the students were more excited about Christmas than I was. A good number of them had Santa hats or tinsel wrapped around their bags. On gate duty that morning I had to say “Happy Christmas!” about 1,000 times. Each time I said the phrase I had a feeling of WTF am I doing working today of all days. Sure I know that many people do work Christmas or other important days, especially if they live in a foreign country - but it hit me hard.
After gate duty I had to go get ready for the Christmas performance. Nobody really wanted to do it. I was an elf. I believe there are photos out there, hopefully I’ll never get to see them. The performance had to be fun and help the students to learn English. They all learned that day that I was talent-less in the acting field but that I was good at hiding behind others and letting them do most of the performing.
The week before Christmas, the head of our department said we should do some special Christmas activities on 25th December to make it more special for the students. The problem was, as I said earlier, the whole of December had been based on Christmas activities. I’d almost have preferred to do a normal lesson as I didn’t want to do Christmas word searches or think about turkey, crackers or Christmas pudding.
I’d actually been sent a box of sweets from my family for Christmas Day and I decided to take them in to share with the other staff. Eating fancy sweets, chocolate coins and Terry’s Chocolate Orange is what Christmas is all about! Eating lunch in the school cafeteria is not what Christmas is about…. The school food was 25 baht and it tasted like it was overpriced. Eating fried rice for lunch on Christmas Day was a let down. Being located in the middle of nowhere, we didn’t have an option to go out for Christmas lunch either.
I think by the end of the day all the foreign teachers were itching to get out and head into town to at least get something good to eat for dinner. Most of us finished by around 3,00 pm but as per school rules had to wait until 4.00 pm before we were allowed to leave. As soon as the clock struck four, we all traveled into Bangkok to get a meal together. It was good to do this but as we had to be up early the next day, we were heading back home by 9.00 pm. None of us felt like getting into the party spirit.
The whole Christmas experience was surreal. Working that day, eating non-Christmas food, the hot weather and missing out on family traditions were all big hurdles to enjoying the day. It was one of the reasons I looked at changing to a job where Christmas was a holiday. There are lots of jobs where you can get Christmas Day off if you want to travel home to see family or celebrate it here in style.
For those of you coming up to your first Christmas in Thailand and facing the prospect of work I hope it goes well. You’ll feel sad at times, missing family and friends from back home, but hopefully as a group with other teachers and friends you’ll get through it OK.
If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country
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