Christmas in a Northern Thai village is simple.
Simple, sleepy and special.
It is still about presents for the children and of course, food.
Food takes centre stage.
Not just on Christmas day but every day.
Food and offerings for the spirits.
Food and blessing for the monks.
Food and sharing kao (rice) with the family.
Food and celebration in the evening.
Thai families embrace Christmas because it is another reason to celebrate, and it is a special day to say thank you.
Christmas in Thailand has never been about status or privilege.
Most village households do not have enough spare money to buy presents.
But gifts you will receive.
Rice cakes and tiny packs of fruit juice lovingly wrapped in recycled Christmas paper.
Boxes of impossibly sweet biscuits and if you are lucky, lottery tickets judiciously chosen for their auspicious and lucky numbers.
The present itself is gleefully received but it is more about the act of giving.
Once again, food takes priority.
If the celebratory meal is to take place in a home, the local women arrive three to four hours before the event.
You can hear their animated chatter as they approach.
This is about family and community.
To upstage a fellow villager is to lose face.
Open armed empathy is the by-product of generous conformity.
Preparations have been underway for many days.
Money won’t be wasted on a Christmas tree.
Why buy a fake tree for one day when there are perfectly good trees growing in the back yard?
A tree is chosen and from nowhere appears a box of frayed tinsel, chipped baubles and winking lights.
Bright ribbons of red are wrapped around the trunk. The width and positioning of the ribbon wrapping is a major discussion.
Any spare baht (money) is spent on food, and each woman has a special dish to prepare.
The children happily eat what is served.
Gai tod (fried chicken) that makes KFC look and tasted like chunks of over fried rancid oil.
The chicken is heavenly.
Mu yang (BBQ pork) cooked over hot coals. It melts in the mouth.
No song and dance about a revered pit master.
It is just about the produce.
Local, organic meat.
Mu kapow kai dow (minced pork, wok tossed with basil and greens finished off with a chilli paste and drizzled with sweet soy, then served with a fried egg on top.)
The fried egg is a celebration of colour and flavour in itself.
Jack fruit pounded into a paste with spices and chilli and served with local, sticky rice.
Pungent and tingling to the palate.
Dishes of onions and field greens flash fried served with small bowls of dried, red and green chillis.
The food is simple but stunningly good.
Each bite catches the breath.
And it keeps coming.
Dish after dish.
Bowl after bowl.
All washed down with beer and soda water chilled in large tubs full of ice.
The guests get merry on the beer but no one gets hopelessly drunk.
Everyone laughs and claps to Thai love songs.
Tumbling ditties of unrequited love.
But not one individual takes centre stage.
To take the glory would be to lessen the affect.
And then, suddenly it is over and people clean up, pack up, say their goodbyes and go home.
It is enough.
Christmas in Thailand is very refreshing.
Baby Jesus seems more at home in the land of the Buddha than the entitled, bickering cities of the West.