History of Christmas in Siam (1884)


There is no country in the far East in which holidays and festal seasons are so numerous, and where they are so enthusiastically observed by the common people as they are in Siam. All classes participate in the public celebrations which occur during the different and various periods of festivities, and King and peasant seem almost to forget their relative ranks and stations amid the general delirium of joy . . . . .

Only a few years ago His Majesty, the second King of Siam, although a sincere Buddhist, opened the doors of his palace on Christmas day and invited the missionaries and their foreign friends to a grand royal feast which was given in honor of the occasion.

It was the first Christmas festival ever held in an Oriental palace, and the entertainment was in every respect worthy of the enlightened ruler, who, though subsequently deprived of his royal prerogatives, is highly esteemed by the entire foreign population of Bangkok for his superior intelligence, princely liberality and sovereign virtues. One of His Majesty’s guests thus describes the royal banquet and the evening entertainment:

On the day of the feast, or rather evening, for in the East dinner among the denizens of (?)  always comes after sunset, we all met at the palace, which was in such a blaze of light, from moat to turrets, as to be visible for miles away on the river.

The royal host received his guests with graceful courtesy, and did the honors with the ease and polish of a Beau Brummel. He wore on the occasion a dark-blue full-dress naval uniform, with epaulettes and buttons of pure gold, — a dress peculiarly suited to his erect figure and compact form. He occupied the head of the table, with an American lady at his side; and one of the resident missionaries, who sat at the other end of the board, said grace in the English language.

The room was brilliantly illuminated with wax candles, and the table fairly aglow with the sheen of massive gold and silver plate and the glitter of costly glass. The first course consisted of four varieties of soup, viz: oyster, turtle, bird’s-nest and genuine Oriental chowdah, such as is never imbibed this side the Cape of Good Hope.

Next came fish, in many varieties; then innumerable courses of meats ; and, lastly, the inevitable concomitant of all Oriental dinners, rice and curry.

Then the cloth was removed and the dessert, already described, brought on. This having been duly discussed,the fruit course succeeded.embracing some forty or fifty varieties of fresh, ripe, luscious fruits, such as one sees nowhere but in the tropics, as they are gathered fresh from the tree, all gemmed with fragrant dew.

After dinner there were fireworks in great variety—sky-rockets, fire-wheels, flying-fish, and Roman candles—the finest I have ever seen, lighting up the very»house with brilliancy. The royal bands were next summoned, and we were regaled with music, both vocal and instrumental; some of it very good, especially the Laos organ, accompanied by several splendid soprano voices, and I think the finest alto I have ever heard.

Various other amusements followed, among them a single combat in which I was much interested,—a trial of skill between two youthful knights. The effort was to unhorse, not to wound. The young men were both of noble presence, and apparently very evenly-matched, as nearly an hour elapsed before any advantage was gained by either.

“At last the victory was decided by an accident, the breaking of a sword of one of the combatants ; an advantage of which he dexterously availed himself, though he magnanimously threw away his own weapon before bearing down on his adversary. His victory was, however, complete; and a jeweled sword of great value was his reward, presented by His Majesty in propria persona. The youthful aspirant bowed low before his royal patron, and uttered his thanks in a low, reverent tone; then turned to his rival, and, with a courteous ‘ Never mind, you may be the next victor,’ they went out, apparently as good friends as ever.

“We soon after bade our noble host good-night, and retired as we had come, in the stage barges of His Majesty,—and so ended our pleasantly-to-be remembered Christmas at this royal place.

“The entire household, guards, servants, and all, amounting to many hundreds, took their turn  at the superb banquet after we had retired; and the next day the remains were distributed among the prisoners and convicts confined in jails. So our regal host remembered the poor; and not in vain, even as a work of mercy and love, was our Christmas festival.”

Source: The Current, Edgar L. Wakeman, 1884

Old Fashioned Holidays | Christmas Indexes

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