Champagne Lunches, New Friends and Festive Fun

“It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas,” sang Michael Buble as I wandered throughout the Central Festival shopping centre in Chiang Mai. At this time of year, the northern Thai city I call home is filled with statues of reindeer, giant Christmas trees and, of course, tinsel lines most Western-style shops. It feels just like home, except Christmas has cost me a lot less this year…and was heaps more fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of those people who has always loved Christmas. That feeling of goodwill, eating delicious food and giving presents. It’s buckets of fun. Yet memories of rushing around, planning and cooking Christmas meals and late-night present wrapping frenzies are still clear in my mind. I always loved Christmas in Australia…but it was exhausting.

Although Thailand is a Buddhist country, the Thai people embrace Christmas. The late King Rama IX was a jazz musician and helped the Thai people develop a love of jazz. Fortunately, most of the Christmas carols playing in the large department stores are more stylish and jazzy than corny. It feels very sophisticated.

I have also not forgotten that Christmas in Australia can get quite pricey, I usually spent hundreds of dollars on the food that would become Christmas lunch; this included seafood, summer fruits and a leg of ham.

Last year, my family decided to have Christmas lunch at our home in Chiang Mai. I made a Thai-Western fusion dish of salmon with a fruit salsa bursting with mango, orange, chilli, fish sauce and a dash of lime juice. I bought most of the ingredients from the little fresh local market and it cost me about $5. My mum, who lives around the corner, made a pavlova covered in locally grown strawberries that were so sweet it reminded me of my childhood.

Throughout December, there have been Christmas parties galore hosted by many of the expat groups here. It is very lively! The Chiang Mai Expats’ Club had a cocktail party luncheon, the All Saints Church has had quite a few functions, including Christmas carols, and expats are regularly posting news of impromptu gatherings at local restaurants and bars on Facebook.

For Christmas lunch, you don’t have to look far…or sweat over a hot stove for hours. Every major hotel and a number of expat restaurants host buffet-style Christmas lunches. These range in price from $25 to $120. A few places even have singles tables, it’s very inclusive here in Chiang Mai—nobody has to be alone on Christmas.

This year, we chose to have a quiet lunch at a little hotel restaurant just down the road. We kicked back around a cool blue swimming pool and tucked into a $25 buffet. The menu included chestnuts wrapped in bacon, prawn cocktails, roast sirloin of beef, turkey crown, roast chicken and ham, brussel sprouts with pine nuts and bacon, cauliflower mornay, mixed greens and a large selection of roast vegies.

All I had to do was sit back, drink some Champers (you bring your own alcohol) and chat to my friends. No cooking, no cleaning and no worrying about the booze bus as transport is very easy to find. What more could one ask for on Christmas other than good wine, great food and wonderful company?

Excitingly, Thai people love their celebrations and Christmas in Thailand is only the beginning of the festivities. New Year’s Eve is celebrated with great joy and colour here. It’s a time when Thai friends exchange gifts (often gift baskets) and spend the night out on the town. Fireworks and lanterns fill the sky and there are smiles everywhere.

Soon after that, in early February, the Chiang Mai Flower Festival begins. This celebrates the diversity of flowers that are grown by farmers in the countryside. This festival includes a parade with floats made of flowers. Beautiful Thai and Hill Tribe women of all ages gracefully adorn the parade.

As a percentage of Thai people have Chinese heritage, Chinese New Year pumps up the city in mid-February. Again, parades and dancers abound and fireworks light up the city as we bring in the Year of the Dog.

Yet another culturally important festival is the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival. This celebrates the

century-long tradition of making saa-paper umbrellas. This parade is incredibly colourful and such a sight to behold. Thai women in colourful traditional clothing with brightly coloured umbrellas make every picture taken a postcard!

It sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Being an expat in Thailand, I have so much to celebrate and be grateful for. I’m not taking anything for granted here. Christmas in Chiang Mai is simply perfect whichever way you choose to spend it…

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