Richard McCully

Bah humbug! Working at Christmas

Surely a foreign teacher doesn't have to work on the 25th December!

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  

Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand. 

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"I am need sure why the message it is better to adjust to Thailand than trying to make Thailand adjust to you and your culture is found to be so offensive by a few ESL teachers"

@Jack - I'm not sure either. I can't say I see it myself, but I don't take it too seriously. It's the internet. Anyway, if you're gonna go round virtue signalling, might as well give you something to get offended by;

Every Christmas, in my homeroom class, I put up a Christmas tree. On the last day we bring in snacks and watch a Christmas movie. We also do secret Santa. This is all 'my' idea, and the kids fucking love it! Then, if I don't go back to my home country, I take my girlfriend and her sister out to meet my friends at a British or Irish pub for Christmas dinner. My Thai girlfriend and her sister absolutely love it. We lift our drinks and say, "Cheers and Merry Christmas!".

By Simon, Thailand (7th December 2018)

I am need sure why the message it is better to adjust to Thailand than trying to make Thailand adjust to you and your culture is found to be so offensive by a few ESL teachers.

There are some serious angry old men here who seem to get really offended when their simplistic ethnocentric views are challenged.

By Jack, In front of my computer (6th December 2018)

Thanks, Jack. Glad to hear you have friends.

"Sorry If there is only one single day on the calendar per year you feel you can celebrate, seems like a very restricted worldview which would limit one's enjoyment of life"

Oh, I never said I only celebrate one day a year. I said it's the only day of the year I can eat and drink as much as want without the girlfriend complaining. Maybe you'd have get on more with people here if you read more carefully and with an open-mind.

But I guess at the end of the day, when you desperately seek attention from others, you'll do that by any means. Even if that means negative attention.

Merry Christmas.

By simon, Thailand (6th December 2018)


Don't worry about me, I tend to celebrate as many holidays as possible (Western, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, or whatever) with my friends and family from around the world. But I don't live back home, so I adjust, seems easier than trying to force my cultural holidays and traditions on the people in whatever country I am currently staying in.

I have really enjoyed my life as an expat, even if it requires me to be a little flexible and open-minded about things like holidays and cultural practices.

If I wanted my life to be exactly the same as it would have been back home, I would have stayed back home.

Sorry If there is only one single day on the calendar per year you feel you can celebrate, seems like a very restricted worldview which would limit one's enjoyment of life.

But hey, if it works for you, maintain that worldview.

By Jack, About (5th December 2018)

I've never worked Christmas day. It's the one day of the year I can eat whatever I like and get drunk as a skunk and my girlfriend can't complain. Literally my one day.

"As I work for a western outfit, I would normally get Christmas off but I decided to take a short term assignment out of the country so I will be working Christmas, no biggie. I will celebrate when I have a free day (with the extra money I am getting for working the holiday"

Yea, but to be fair, Jack, celebrating Christmas alone would be depressing. I can see why you don't care about it. Try making some friends and celebrate with them. You might like it.

By Simon, Thailand (4th December 2018)

Christmas is not a legal holiday in Thailand. If you get it off, good for you, if you don't, feel free to whine and moan if you think it will make you feel better.

As I work for a western outfit, I would normally get Christmas off but I decided to take a short term assignment out of the country so I will be working Christmas, no biggie. I will celebrate when I have a free day (with the extra money I am getting for working the holiday).

I am not sure that learning different countries with different religious traditions have different sets of holidays is a surprise, kind of thought this was pretty obvious when one decided to take up an international career, but maybe not.

Not many things are not worth a bitch and moan about if you enjoy that sort of things.

By Jack, Here and there (2nd December 2018)

@Jack - do you ever take a few minutes out to reread the rubbish you spout on here and think, "What am I doing with my life?". Richard wrote a perfectly nice piece about working on Christmas Day and all you can do is bitch and moan.

Should the Mexicans take Cinco de Mayo off? You do know Mexicans are piously catholic and celebrate Christmas also? Why didn't you ask that question in reference to Mexicans taking Christmas Day off? Oh, that's right. Mexicans are mostly brown people. You know many non-whites celebrate Christmas, as well? In fact, over 2 billion people in over 160 countries see Christmas Day as the most important holiday of the year. Should the Chinese be allowed a few days separate for Chinese New Year? Sure. They do at my school. They work Christmas while the rest of us have Christmas day off.

My school has 57 foreigners. About 80% of the foreigners think of Christmas Day as a holiday. The rest are Chinese and take off Chinese New Year. Apparently some of the Thai staff, kids and parents have some connection to China and also take time off. What a happy coincidence. My school allows its large foreign staff to have Christmas Day off because it's a nice and accommodating thing to do. We very much appreciate it. Even the Jewish guy I work with takes the day off. You treat your staff well and they'll be grateful. Should try it with you own.

On Christmas Eve we work a half day. We are then off until the first working day of January. On Christmas Eve we have a Christmas play, some teachers dress as Santa and we have a lucky draw where students and parents choose gifts from under the 12 foot Christmas tree. Everyone fucks off home at lunch and the kids return the following day for a half-day sports day. Then the school is closed until the first working day of the new year. I imagine my Thai school is very similar to many others in regard to holidays over Christmas.

Seriously, Jack - you can't possibly speak to people like this in real. You wouldn't have any friends and you'd be getting slapped around a lot.

Oh, one last thing - "Did it really come as a surprise to you when you moved to Thailand that it is is a foreign country built upon Buddhist traditions and therefore it has a different set of holidays than a country build upon Christian traditions?"

Funny, Thais seem to have two new years. Their own and the one that represents 2018 years after 'Jesus Christ' was born. Should we be reminding Thais that January 1st is 'our holiday' and not 'theirs'. Grow up, and accept you have zero control over what other foreigners do here.

By Craig, Wherever (23rd November 2018)

I've worked in Thailand for nine years now. The very first year I worked here I was working for a language center and I had 10 days personal leave a year. The first year I used my leave to go home in the summer. The next eight years I've gone home every Christmas.

Christmas really is the best time for me to go home. Nearly all of my friends and family will have some time off. Most of my friends who moved away will come back to our home town for a day or two and we all meet up. Seeing my friends and family once a year is something that is very important for me. I ran to Thailand because I like it here more. I didn't run away from my home country because I didn't like it. There's a big difference.

I'm not religious. Going home at Christmas is just something that is very convenient for me. I get to see my mom which is the most important thing. It makes her very happy and my parents are getting older. I'm not sacrificing seeing most of family and friends once a year for a basic salary of 53k. I only had a problem with one school when I took Christmas leave. They didn't like it so we both agreed I'd leave at the end of term. I found another job within a week.

December in most schools really is an odd month. So many lessons are cancelled and the kids are all practicing for sports day, practicing for the Christmas play or a dancing and singing show. My old school were happy for me to take an extra week off over Christmas. Most classes were cancelled and they didn't have to pay me. Now I work at a school where I'm allowed five personal days which I use at Christmas. My boss always assumes I'll will be going home, and when I confirm, she always says 'That's nice. You can see your family'. There's something to be said about people who are family orientated. I think it's very sweet.

Hey Phil. I must admit I saw the red mist a little too when reading that obnoxious reply. Then, as I read through the reply more, and then read some more of his replies, I realized, oh, he's an internet troll. I understand why you allow these replies, but would be cool if there was a feature for users where we could personally block these kind of users. Others can read their posts, but if you choose to personally block them then you don't have to.

If I don't see before, 'Feliz Navidad' everyone.

By Patrick, Rayong (22nd November 2018)

Jack I wouldn’t say that Christmas is more special , merely more interesting than Asian holidays. I mean aside from Songkhram they are all totally boring as shit aren’t they?

By Big bad B, Not Thailand ( thank the gods) (22nd November 2018)

Jack, my man.
Most of the time I just let your comments and responses slide, but when I'm having a bad day, the red mist comes down.

Firstly, I think you analyze the blogs far too deeply. This is Richard writing a light-hearted account of a foreign teacher having to work on Christmas Day. It's a bit of fun stuff. You know that word right? Fun. Who cares about what the Mexicans and Chinese do?

"Of the multiple whines and whinges on this site, this one nears the top for silliness"

I have called you out on your 'selective reading' before haven't I? There are numerous helpful articles on Ajarn but you never comment on those to my knowledge. You even had to have a little dig at the '21 Mistakes' article when I updated it the other day.

What amazes me is that you constantly complain about the whinging, silliness and moaning on this website, yet still stick around. I find that absurd because no disrespect Jack, you have the freedom to vote with your mouse - and fuck off anytime.

By Philip, Samut Prakarn (21st November 2018)

How many Thais working in the UK complain about having to work on Songkran ?

Should the Chinese workers in Bangkok get to take of Chinese New Year, the Japanese to take off Golden Week, the Mexicans take off Cinco de Mayo, and every other ethnic group pick which holidays it wants off? Or are your favorite cultural holidays somehow more special than the holidays of others?

Did it really come as a surprise to you when you moved to Thailand that it is is a foreign country build upon Buddhist traditions and therefore it has a different set of holidays than a country build upon Christian traditions?

I would bet you don't complain about not having to work on Thai holidays while people back home are working.

It really is not that big a deal, if you want to celebrate a full Christmas day with friends or families due it on a weekend near Christmas. Yes, it is not EXACTLY like celebrating back home, but you are in a foreign country and things are not EXACTLY like they are back home.

Adjust, is the 25th of December the only day you can celebrate?

Of the multiple whines and whings on this site, this one nears the top for silliness.

By Jack, Land of smiles (21st November 2018)

LOL That brought back memories, Richard.
The first couple of years in Thailand, I worked for Berlitz Language School on Sukhumwit and there were about a dozen foreign teachers (a mix of full-timers and part-timers) When the school told us that they intended to open on Christmas Day, we all put our foot down and said no! We're not working on Christmas Day and that's final! Only nurses, policemen and fireman work on the 25th December. In the end it didn't matter because all the Thai students cancelled and all the Japanese businessmen and housewives (our core market) returned to Japan to spend the festive season with their families.

By PHILIP, Samut Prakarn (20th November 2018)

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