Join Date: Jan 2005
Home Port: Darwin
Vessel Name: Sandettie
The Festive Season With a Difference
By no specific intention, I have spent the past three Christmas periods outside of Australia. One was spent in Japan, one in Thailand and this one, in Laos.
When I was a child in the 50s, Christmas had on overtone of religion, and the pre Christmas period started with lights being strung at the end of the first week of December. Department stores went overboard in providing a spectacular display, communities staged parades and the event had not yet been hijacked from the church, by the retail trade.
Christmas in the west, now starts in September and is seamlessly welded to Easter which apparently commences on the same day that Santa is retired for the next eight months; and while I am not a religious person, I miss the message and the story which the church promotes.
I discovered an irony of asian Christmas in Japan, a buddhist country. The benefit of Christmas to Japanese retailers is obvious. It extends the New Year ritual of gift giving. Japanese have taken to the jolly fat bastard with relish. While there is no overt religious message, the sentiment is clear. Peace and goodwill is tirelessly promoted in a sedate and respectful manner, whilst the merry japlanders buy up big.
It reminds me of Christmas when I was a child. In Japan, the lights are lit on about the 14th of December and are taken down before New Year. Santa looks wonderful in a plush red suit, trimmed with thick white fur and the carols are not played endlessly for months at a time in exploitative, monopolistic supermarkets selling cheap Chinese crap.
In Thailand, there was a similar feel. Thailand professes Buddhism, but does not necessarily follow its dictates. Christmas in Thailand is an event which both arrives and leaves in December. And, it is somewhat tacky. Not tacky in a western, retail sense; rather it has much to do with the I-couldn't-give-a-damn, Thai attutide characterised in their oft repeated saying 'mai bpen rai'. Translated, this essentially means much the same as a long, sad sigh, uttered by any woman who has lived for too long with a drunken husband, in a caravan (US-read 'trailer) park, at the end of a dirty, dead end road.
This year I am in Vientiane. The capital of Laos. The scene of the war that never was. Vientiane is a small capital of just 200,000 people. Laotians are warm, simple and genuine people who have been screwed over by a succession of countries with imperial ambitions.
Laos is a Marxist/Leninist, single party communist state. Yet, the Buddhist fire burns bright in the souls of its inhabitants. I have not seen a Santa, a Christmas tree; no frenzied retail rip-offs and indeed, it appears there is no concept of the Christmas period whatsoever.
Except.....I have joined a casually formed group of likeminded souls determined to celebrate the season. There are two other Aussies, two Kiwis, a South African, a Slovenian couple. There's a Frog, three Poms and a Belgian.
Together we have found a small bistro run by a American expat married to a Laotian girl. He is going to cook us a roast dinner. We have found some reasonable plonk (US-wine) and joy of joys, we have found two rich, dark fruit cakes which, when nuked in a microwave and served with 'creme anglaise' will do wonderfully as a Christmas pudding.
In the absense of piped carols, we have had to produce songsheets and learn some words. Zivorad and Niki from Slovenia have a squeeze box, JD from the US has a miniature guitar and we will sing, eat, drink and be merry, and will pass out small presents in a distinctly old fashioned way. Niki is also a staunch orthodox Christian who has promised a short narrative on the reason why Christmas exists.
Who would have thought one would need to travel to a tropical,backward, communist country to rediscover a traditional Christmas? It may well be one of the best yet.
"if at first you don't succeed....Redefine success"!