By Aoife Goppert – Research Intern
I think no matter your religion or spirituality Christmas is an important time for everyone. It’s an emotive time conjuring images of good food and close family ties. Being so far away from home, I worried about the undoubtedly different festive season I would have in such a rural region of Thailand, but I needn’t have worried. The villagers have made us feel so welcome and are understanding of our cultural differences, they are so willing to share their version of Christmas with us. ‘Creo ple’ or Merry Christmas has been said to me so often over the past few days from both Christian and Buddhist families alike, mugs of tea have been shared by the fireside as cold season has hit the village and temperatures have dropped to below 5°c. I have realised that no matter where you are in the world this Christmas, it’s the people you surround yourself with that create the Christmas spirit we all long for.
Here, in the foothills of the Himalayas where families have little disposable income and lead simple lives grounded in hearth and home, you can so readily see the contrast with our commercialised Western values. Families came together to create a village-wide celebration, groups played instruments, sang, and danced while the entire community was fed by the hard-working mothers who spent their day preparing papaya salad and pad thai. A carolling group went door to door distributing parcels of household items and food. The village children got involved in community games, happy to have a day off school taking part in events ranging from the familiar to the less so; sack races, tug of war, water-balloon tossing, orange peeling and bamboo climbing competitions. To see the happiness they have derived from seemingly simple acts and gifts has been humbling and fulfilling for me to experience and be a part of this Christmas.
Even though I’ll miss my family and friends, and I won’t have a traditional Christmas dinner (although I may have to insist on making my mum’s sticky toffee puddings- the best in the world I can assure you) it is significantly less than I would have expected just a few short months ago when I first set off on this journey. My homestay family and the friends I have made in Kindred Spirit have made it so much easier to be away from home. So, this Christmas, I’m looking forward to hiking to see our four beautiful elephants once again, sharing sticky toffees with the villagers and watching Home Alone on the wooden floor cuddling our base cat Michael. I have learned a lot already in my time here and I have met some truly wonderful people, I can’t wait to experience more in the rest of my year here. Finally, to all of my friends both home and abroad I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!