Event on December 24-25, 2009. An usual but traditional Christmas can be celebrated in Sakhon Nakhon in Northeast Thailand. Santa Claus is a busy man. He might reside on the Artic Circle, arguably in Finland, or Norway, but he is active climbing down chimney stacks in North America and turning up in Australia for a Christmas barbeque, all on Christmas Eve. But he didn’t overlook Thailand even though the country’s major celebration is one week later on New Year’s Eve.
If the capital city’s Christmas celebration haunts are losing their shine, then a more traditional festival in an unlikely destination in Northeast Thailand might be just the ticket. Sakhon Nakhon is definitely on Santa’s itinerary as hundreds of village children in the tiny village of Tha Rae will substantiate.
Christmas Eve holds special meaning to its residents; devout Christians who can trace their ancestors back to Vietnam and troubled times of persecution and a hurried migration west. Today, family celebrations, that dominate the scene in Sakhon Nakhon province, 24 to 25 December, are in the news as the Tourism Authority of Thailand regional office in Nakhon Phanom promotes the season of good will to a much wider audience.
Tha Rae village has all the right credentials. Home to a Catholic Seminary, where priests are trained and ordained, the village also boasts an imposing, St Michael the Archangel Cathedral and the seat of a Bishop, who oversees a flock that extends beyond Sakhon Nakhon to neighbouring provinces Kalasin, Mukdahan, and Nakhon Phanom. An estimated 50,000 Catholics reside in these provinces and many of them will visit Tha Rae to witness the Star of David festivities.
Residents parade thousands of “Stars of David” while there are scenes of the nativity all in a genuine context not performed as a tourist attraction. Carol singers and a star-studied line up for an evening concert will add to the Christmas atmosphere along with a street-side stalls and open-air dining.
The Christmas Star Festival parade culminates in residents decorating their homes with multi-coloured lights and stars to symbolise their faith. The stars remain over doors and windows for months after the festival is over.
Tha Rae, just off highway 22, is on the northern shore of Nong Han lake the largest natural lake in northeast Thailand fed by the River Nam Pung. The lake has public parks on its banks and is a popular spot for fishing.
However, visitors celebrating Christmas in Sakhon Nakhon will probably head for Nakhon Phanom that stands on the banks of the Mekong River, some 83 eastward on highway 22. It has a wider selection of hotels, restaurants and an imposing riverside promenade. Just a couple of blocks from the clock tower, donated by the Vietnamese community, a bustling night market, attracts residents and tourists shopping for local sweets and savoury snacks, Isan dishes and home-made curries. Nearby, are trendy pubs and restaurants, while the more up-scale riverside restaurants are 1 km north of the clock tower, quite close to the TAT information office.
While visiting this picturesque town, there is an opportunity to hire cycles to enjoy a tour of several important temples and historical sights. One is the residence of Ho Chi Minh, who sought refuge in a small teak house on the outskirts of town, during the French Indochina War. The residence is now a museum.