Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown: Festive celebrations in Bangkok

With Christmas steadily approaching, the chanting began. It started as a whisper, far-off and barely audible.

“You better watch out, you better not cry,” angelic voices decreed from afar. Sitting poolside we strained our ears to hear the divine message as it floated, dreamlike, along Soi Wat Phasi and vanished somewhere over Thonglor pier.

But that was it. One sentence repeated over and over. We thought for a moment that the monks in the local wat were expanding their repertoire in time for the holiday season.

As time progressed, so did the mantra.

“Better not pout, I’m telling you why.” Inquisitive souls sought the source of the sound and were confronted by a group of silhouetted figures locked into a groove on the courtyard outside our building, eyes shut in concentration as they chanted themselves into a state of climatic samadhi.

Forgetting the incongruity of hearing Christmas carols in Bangkok – we’d already bypassed that by murdering the season’s standards nightly in the bar for about 3 months – we sat and waited for the message to fully divulge itself to us. Laughter and joyful whoops from below told us we didn’t have long to wait.

“Santa Claus is coming to town!” ‘Santa’, in this case, was an Australian teacher who for some years now had been organising Christmas celebrations for local families as a way of spreading festive cheer to those in a less fortunate position than ourselves.

As well as being an admirable sentiment – there would be donations of clothes, food and presents to local schools and orphanages – it was a way of forging communal spirit along the soi.

‘Santa’ had even roped in his elves and, bizarrely enough, Elvis Presley to perform at the party.

With the setting sun bestowing dusky mood-lighting on the heaving courtyard and the passing river taxis providing a musique concrète backdrop of swooshes and splashes, the party kicked off.

Santa’s elves, sporting some very nifty costumes, opened proceedings in a very familiar way: “You better watch out, you better not cry…”

The penny dropped! These kids were the same voices who had been serenading us over the preceding weeks. They performed admirably, even adding some neat moves to their act as their distinctive Thai brogue added a rhythmic flair that had been lacking in the originals.

Rehearsals had clearly paid off as they generated the kind of goodwill and collective happiness that only comes with shared positive experience; smiles and handshakes rippled through the crowd and refused to leave for the rest of the evening.

Set against a background of political upheaval caused by the deposition of Thaksin Shinawatra by way of military coup and confusing VISA issues for farang, the party had succeeded in its goals.

As we basked in the frankly surreal version of Love Me Tender sung in a strong Welsh accent unfolding before a rapt audience we looked skyward: peace on Earth and goodwill to all men had descended onto a small corner of Bangkok.

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