With a new year brings new energy to life in the village of Huay Ma Lai and Saha Christian Suka School in rural southwest Thailand. For Christian Karen people, December was an exciting time of the year preparing for the birth of Christ. Similar to Advent, Sweet December is celebrated throughout December as a time of harvest, family, and the joy and hope found in Christmas. On November 30 people stay awake all night singing songs, worshipping, playing games, and dancing to welcome in the month of December. Then, throughout December different groups from churches, villages, children's homes, and the refugee camps came door-to-door, singing Christmas carols. Often around ten or eleven in the evening, they were heard at the front of our house, flashlights and candles in hand, singing beautiful Karen Christmas songs. Throughout the year Thai people often go to bed early and arise early. So, with groups coming to sing late into the night, our village was radiating with extra energy and cheer.
December was also filled with many Christmas parties and worship services where groups joined in fellowship with one another. One Christmas worship I attended was in a small village on top of a mountain with Bible students from Gethsemane Bible School, near Sangklaburi, the nearest town to our village. One of my favorite Christmas events, however, was a celebration with the children, youth, and adults in our village and surrounding areas who have disabilities. The day of the Christmas celebration was planned in conjunction with International Day of Disabled Persons on December 3rd. The Christmas celebration occurred at the home of Jan, a nurse, and Jit, a Karen pastor, who live in Huay Ma Lai and work in supporting the children and families with disabilities in this area.
To get all the people there for the special Christmas celebration, some children arrived the night before. Those that came early joined in eating Guay Tiew, Thai noodle soup, crafts- making Christmas decorations (snowflakes) for the following day, and excitement of having a sleepover with each other at the home of Jit and Jan. The following day included games, singing Christmas songs, lunch and a Christmas worship outside. The children and youth in attendance ranged in abilities. Some of the children cannot walk, while others have cognitive disabilities. Some of their family members came to join in the celebration and care for their child throughout the day. About 150 people of all ages came to this memorable 2014 Christmas celebration.
Sweet December really was a time of many merry celebrations!
For Karen Christians, Christmas is a time of remembering the joy of knowing Christ is with us always and that God loves us so much he sent Jesus to accompany within our spirits and lives.
One Sweet December song states:
“The time of joyful celebration has come already- the month of the birth of Jesus.
We bring blessings to you to receive Jesus in this night.
Come together to celebrate with us.
Sing songs of joy during December- the month of celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Let us not forget as we move into a new year the joy found in sharing and knowing about the life of Jesus.
For those of other faiths, December is also a time of rest, family, and celebration as Christmas occurs at the start of Karen New Year.
While Sweet December and Christmas 2014 has passed, the New Year carries with it a similar sense of joy and beauty.
The start to the New Year brings exciting times. Children's Day, celebrated in many countries, is recognized nationally in Thailand on the second Saturday of January, celebrated this year on January 6. Known in the Thai language as ‘Vanh Dek’, the day is a celebration honoring the large population of children living in Thailand. Children's Day was created with the intention of remembering the importance of simply giving children time to just have fun, as well as creating awareness of children's role in the future of Thailand. Thai children have curious minds filled with creativity and wonder. Giving them time away from the classroom is beneficial. Learning and growing through play and games is important for children. The day was filled with lots of laughter and fun!
Children's Day in our village was no different. It was a time for our students to just be children. Saha Christian Suksa School has over 500 students, so games were assigned to different and appropriate age groups to ensure everyone got a chance to play. Students were divided into groups based on their ages and played games and relay races outside. Games included, but were not limited to, musical chairs, rice sack races, climbing bamboo poles, and vegetable eating contests.
Children are a vital part of Thai society and being a role model in helping them grow and develop is an honor. Thailand's recognition of Children's Day is important and I hope it continues on into the future for Thai children!
Nicole Betteridge serves as a Global Mission Intern with The Church of Christ in Thailand. Her appointment is supported by Week of Compassion, Disciples' Mission Fund, Our Church's Wider Mission and your special gifts.