PHUKET: Christmas has always been a somewhat schizophrenic event for me. Coming from a non-religious family, it was always celebrated as a time for the extended family to get together, share food and catch up on developments over the past year, and had absolutely nothing to do with celebrating the birth of Christ.
Nevertheless, my mother is religious in her yearly purchase of a fresh Christmas tree and a liberal supply of presents for our familyís nephews, nieces, cousins and sundry other relatives. The smell of pine wafting through the family home is inextricably linked with Christmas in my mind, and in its absence this year, as I couldnít make it back home to celebrate, it seems as though Christmas didnít really happen.
Here in Thailand, while you can note the odd decoration or Christmas-themed webpages, we are blissfully free of the annual juggernaut of Christmas commercialism that permeates all facets of public life in Australia for up to two months before the actual day.
If you are like me, the absence of piped Christmas carols, Santa decorations, advertisements in shops and so on is a cherished respite.
It also highlights what I actually do miss about Christmas. In a word, family. In many words, watching the young kids open their presents with eager anticipation; scoffing slabs of delicious glazed ham and all manner of foods that only ever seem to feature in my familyís diet at this time of year; sitting on the couch chatting with cousins I havenít seen since last year; a game of backyard cricket or footy; and more often than not, a healthy amount of wine and beer to encourage the Christmas cheer.
It occurs to me that families celebrating Christmas here in Phuket really have it good. They can have all the benefits of spending time with family, sharing gifts, food and conversation, without the attendant commercialism that tends to either exploit or somehow cheapen the long-held social meaning of Christmas.
So to all of you out there who celebrated a tropical yuletide, a happy New Year from everybody here at the Phuket Gazette