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In Thailand, Buddhists love Christmas too

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Tibor Krausz

(Read caption) A woman poses in front of a Christmas tree in Bangkok.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Swathed in flashy lights blinking “Merry Christ-mas,” a seven-story shopping mall’s facade also features large Santas bearing gifts. Inside, myriad shops and stalls are festooned with synthetic pine boughs and other Yuletide paraphernalia – often right next to the obligatory Buddha statuettes and animistic spirit shrines.

All around Bangkok, giant neon snowflakes, chubby snowmen, and full-size reindeer sleighs are everywhere. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” pipe nonstop from loudspeakers. Weeks before the holiday, a Christmasy atmosphere is in full swing in this predominantly Buddhist country.

The Hollywood version of Christmas caters to Thais’ love of sanuk (fun), pretty decorations, and self-portraits – rolled into one.

Thousands flock to brightly lit Christmas displays where they jostle to pose for photographs. “Christmas has a wonderful atmosphere that many Thais love,” says Darunee Sukanan, a young chemist, as she takes pictures with friends of a towering Christmas tree at a downtown plaza.

Near imitation snowbanks, worshipers in shorts kneel at a sacred Buddhist shrine shrouded in clouds of incense.

Locals know little about the holiday’s religious significance. “I saw a movie about Santa once,” a college student says, and giggles.

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