Many people have asked me whether one celebrates Christmas in Thailand? Well, the Christians do and even though Buddhists have their own celebrations most of them know Santa. Even my 84 year old grandma who lives in the depth of Maeklong’s coconut groves knows Santa that because buying gifts for one another during this festive season has become a global custom and has fueled the economic impact of Christmas and Santa has become its messenger. Christmas has spread across the globe and has taken hold of Bangkok’s mega-malls which herald the start of the Christmas spirit of mass consumption and season’s sales where hundreds of thousands of middle and upper class Thais are all smiles while posing for pictures to the backdrop of monumental Christmas decorations. The question is to what extent does this reflect the true spirit of Christmas? We all enjoy having our Christmas dinners and little gift exchanges and the well-to-do citizens enjoy posing next to Frosty the Snowman in Bangkok’s upscale locations but do we want Christmas to remain on that level? Or do want to we want to go back to the essence of Christmas which also reflects universal human values of love? We say lets bring Christmas to another level!
Some critics claim it’s about spreading Christianity or changing local culture but they’re wrong! We have people of all religions and colors join the Santa flashmob and Santa just like Micky Mouse has become a global icon. I have yet to hear of somebody to convert to Christianity because (s)he encountered Santa. It’s about a great opportunity to celebrate the spirit of togetherness and to bring society truly together. It’s a call to mobilize Bangkok’s community and to show that Santa is not only for the rich kids at Siam Paragon but that every child in every slum deserves his or her Santa moment including the famous HOHOHO, a full-blown reindeer and elves platoon and awesome gifts!
We know how diverse and awesome Bangkokians are, we have experienced it, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and Seculars, young, old, working, middle or upper class, we all have wiped thousands of wind shields for flood relief and went into dozens of slum communities to play our part in building bridges, to narrow the gap in our society, even if it’s momentarily but it is a signal and we ain’t stop there. This gap is not exclusively reserved for Thailand but a global problem that we see growing with every passing hour. We may donate and care a lot about issues thousands of kilometers away (which is good to do so) but we all too often tend to forget the challenges at home, the struggle of those often living just a few hundred meters from our house doors.
The Santa flashmob wants to bring the focus back to our communities, our neighborhoods and invite people to play a vital role for positive change. How can it be that at one shopping mall thousands of people are happily taking pictures and enjoying the gifts of economic progress in the name of Christmas whilst right next to it along polluted canals and railway tracks there are thousands of children and their families completely ignored and left behind in their struggle?
Gift The Tide from Amornthep Sachamuneewongse on Vimeo.
How did it all get started? It had been over two years when we wandered the squatter communities located beneath and besides the expressways of inner Bangkok. Bangkok’s 2nd stage expressway system seemed to be the sheltering roof, harboring hundreds if not thousands of shacks along and beneath their endless windings. Elevated expressways, blackened and polluted water arteries formerly known as canals, desolate railway tracks stretching across this urban landscape are the common settling point for those at the bottom end of the societal pyramid. These places are none-existent on the city planner’s map but they’re well-existent on the maps we would create in preparation for the Santa Invasion.
We had spent considerable time exploring those areas prior to the floods and were struck by the friendliness of people despite the harsh conditions. Children are cheerful and lively as they can be, they peeked around corners, from behind their elder peers, ran up and down the alley, approaching with varying degrees of dashingness. Their spirit, their eyes and smiles shined through despite being deprived of some of the elemental outfit such as clean clothes not to speak of toys and school supplies. Simply being there and engaging the kids created this ripple effects of positivity and it was something that had to be amplified. From my own experience as a child that could be perfectly done as a Santa with toys and candy in tow but it would take two years, a flood crisis, an awesome volunteer community, 70,000Baht in donations, and Gareth Finch to make this idea become reality.
On December 24, 2011 after our Wipe the Tide campaign rolled across the city and created one of the most dynamic fundraising communities in the history of Bangkok’s disaster relief and everybody was hungry for more.
It was Gareth Finch’s phonecall and his wish to visit an orphanage as Santa Clause to bring back the positive energy in a time of crisis. bangkokvanguards was entangled in a number of campaigns but the idea was too awesome and the perfect operation for our volunteers to let off some positive steam. Hence we plunged into the research of Bangkok’s flood affected slum communities using Google Earth and our local knowledge and networks.
After that David, his “Schwarzer Blitz” (Black flash) and I would spend hundreds of kilometers doing the survey of the researched areas and writing the details such as contact numbers of locals, access points, route descriptions, for future Santa platoon leaders.
Gareth Finch took over the initial mobilization and promoted the event on his pod-cast site “The Random Dreams Podcast“.
The campaign was named Gift the Tide and Gareth had gift collection points in universities and companies set up and created a great gift marking system with Star gifts and the like. Additionally we invested 70,000THB from the Wipe the Tide funds to buy gifts and Santa costumes combined with the privately donated gifts it made an amount of gifts we were actually unable to wrap. As with our Wipe the Tide campaigns Central World was highly supportive in providing the space for our initiative and thus Bangkok’s first real Christmas flashmob was created with many of the Wipe the Tide members joining in as well as new faces.
On Christmas Eve while we were presenting at the Ignite Thailand symposium Gareth took charge of a over 100 volunteer strong Santa flashmob and was getting ready to invade over 10 slum communities in the west of Bangkok covering areas from Taling Chan all the way out to Phuttamonthon. We prepared maps for the team leaders and operations were in full Santa swing. The following day on Christmas day our teams embarked with trains from Hua Lampong to their drop off points along the rail line starting from Bang Khen to Rangsit.
For many of the team members this was the best Christmas they ever had. We witnessed the impact of going into the slums with thousands of gifts to spread the positive energy and take people by surprise brought not only countless smiles but it send a positive signal to the kids, their families and the communities.
As mention this positive message was not only felt by the kids and their families but it had also a tremendous positive impact on the volunteers hence Santa Invasion is here to stay, to make something really special out of the Bangkok’s Christmas. This year (2012) we’re not limiting our operations to flood affected communities but go beyond with the final goal to cover all slums in Bangkok. I know it sounds crazy but I believe it’s possible, with the community we have in Bangkok anything is possible. Hence, we’ll need your support, we’ll be looking for sufficient funding and volunteer power to achieve this goal. If you’re interested in taking part in this campaign, please connect with us on Facebook, spread the word for us and if you know sponsors or slum communities that you want the Santa platoons to visit then send us an email or message us on Facebook. Lets make this the most awesome Christmas this country has ever seen.
For more pictures click here!!