Christmas atmosphere in Bangkok, Thailand is extremely lively and colorful: an explosion of Asian kitsch. Nobody knows the reasons why ancient peoples celebrated the day in which the sun god began to beat back the forces of darkness and returned to shine.
Neither Bangkokians really know – or care, for the matter – about the Christian belief in the magical birth of Jesus from a virgin young woman. Yet all this doesn’t stop them from celebrating Christmas. They do it in their own way, though. They don’t visit churches or listen priests’ preaching. They rather follow the contemporary, consumerist idea of what Christmas is about.
In these days Bangkok is an anthill flurried with herds of girls, boys, and families pouring into the countless shiny malls of this Asian metropolis. Central Plaza, one of the newest temples of consumerism erected in the “City of Angels”, is a sort of huge box completely similar to those existent in Singapore, Tokyo, Los Angeles, London or Paris. Today it was crowded with thousands of buyers diving into a hysterical shopping spree, running from shop to shop, standing in line to purchase goods, chasing each other to grab the last item available and transporting more bags they could really handle. Several Santas with smiley Asian faces and synthetic beards took photos near bewildered kids. Snowmen, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and some Hollywood monsters were there too. Childish Christmas songs flew in the air. Everything was loud and bright.
Nice atmosphere – I thought – very “human”. Indeed, it is nice to see so many people – not just children but adults too – happy for the simple fact of taking a photo next to a plastic tree or a paper reindeer. Consequently, mostly for anthropological curiosity, I threw myself in the midst of these apocalyptic crowds of persons who are attracted by such shimmering, crowded, and noisy shopping centers, where a shirt costs half a salary of an unskilled worker.
“Perhaps the most sinister of these Christmas Holidays of Consuming,” Garcia Marquez said, “is the miserable esthetics they bring with them: the pitiful cards, the strings of little colored light bulbs, the little glass bells, the wreaths of mistletoe hanging over doorways, those mentally retarded songs that are Christmas carols translated from English; and so many other glorious stupidities for which it wasn’t even worth inventing electricity.”
Marquez referred to the North American Christmas imported in Latin America. But here in Asia this “miserable aesthetic” is nothing but the kitsch which so many locals are in love with. To them, consumerist Christmas is a celebration loaded with many cherished values: family, shopping, wealth, abundance, happiness, ostentation, gifts, colored flashing bulb lights and tech whatnot.
Less than 4% of the people in Thailand are Christians, and not many know the whereabouts of Jesus’ birthplace (Bethlehem, Palestine, according to tradition). Most Thais don’t know much of the life of Jesus as reported by the Gospels. Some confessed to me that they tend to mix up the figures of Christ and Santa. And there is nothing wrong with that: the average European or American doesn’t know much about Rama or Brahma either.
The interesting point is another one. Asia is the center of the world, these youngsters are the future, and this hints to a day when, perhaps, the story of the Child Jesus (itself taken from other myths and deities) will be overwhelmed, and the whole world will celebrate Christmas as the day we rejoice for the birth of… Santa Claus, an amusing old man with flushed red cheeks as a German habitual drinker, a gentleman who distributes gifts in shopping malls… and the luckiest child, blessed by the Divine Providence, will receive the latest technological item.
The beloved tale of Jesus Christ, the ox, the donkey, the shepherds, the good carpenter and the girl who gave birth without having made love… it will all fade away from human memory. All the Native Scene will be lost in the maze of history along with Thor, Mithra, Horus, Isis, Odin and Apollo. And maybe this is just right, or normal. So let it be.
Merry Christmas and happy New Year.
By Alessio Fratticcioli