Instead of having their Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May, like the United States, the nation of Thailand has their Mother’s Day on August 12th, which is not coincidentally the birthday of Queen Sirikit of Thailand. I suppose, unlike in the United States, Mother’s Day in Thailand is a movable feast. It is a national holiday here, and one of the advantages of being a royal is that there are way to ensure that everyone celebrates your birthday in one way or another. Of course, we have classes off at Legacy as well, and enjoy the day off as much as anyone else. Many students, to honor their parents (which is a big deal here in Thailand, much bigger than in the United States), wanted to go home. This gave me a bit of extra work as it is my responsibility to handle requests for going home, of which there are strict deadlines that I enforce strictly.
I have mixed feelings about Thailand’s Mother’s Day ceremony . In general, I am supportive of the principle of Mother’s Day (as well as Father’s Day), recognizing the importance of honoring our fathers and mothers. However, the existence of Mother’s Day on the birthday of a queen royal is something that fills me with a bit more unease than having it on a particular day of the week or day of the year. There seems something particularly paternalistic about an institution that, however consciously or subconsciously, seeks to have itself celebrated as the parents of a whole nation. Not coincidentally, Thailand’s Father’s Day is December 5th, the King’s birthday .
It is not any absence of respect for authority that leads me to feel a bit uneasy about royal birthdays doubling as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I just dislike the feeling that such respect is coerced, rather than voluntary. I do not see the rulers of my nation as my parents—quite frankly I tend to feel rather ambivalent about my own parents, and having royalty see themselves as the parents of their entire people is somewhat troubling to me on a personal level, as it implies a sense of obligation for those who know (or would appear to care) little about my own personal existence. After all, I am not even Thai.
The existence of Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day) on royal birthdays is a reminder, though, if any were necessary, that Thailand is a much different nation than the United States. That said, we used to have a holiday in the United States for George Washington, who many people claim as the Father of our country. That sentiment seems to be decreasing in recent decades, as respect for authority and our own national history has corroded in the age of the Baby Boomers and afterward. Perhaps the traditional American culture is not so different from that of Thailand—since the Chakri dynasty has ruled over Thailand for just a little bit longer than the United States has been recognized as an independent nation.
Perhaps the culture of respect within the United States for our leadership (at least historically) was near to that here in Thailand, where pictures of the royals are everywhere, where one must stand up every time one goes to the movies, or when one is in public at 8AM when the national anthem plays on Thai television, and where one celebrates the birthdays of the King and Queen as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. But if things were once more similar between my culture and Thailand, things have changed. There is a great, and perhaps unbridgeable gap between the paternalistic and deferential official culture here in Thailand and the vastly more egalitarian culture of the United States which is almost completely lacking in deference (where even if deference would be expected in certain circles, it would not be deserved).
So, I view the Mother’s Day traditions here in Thailand as an outsider, as someone for whom the culture of tremendous respect and even adoration is alien and more than a little discomfiting. At what line does the respect and honor that are due to parents, or rulers, or anyone for that matter (see 1 Peter 2:17: “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”) cross the line from proper and genuine respect into something less voluntary and improper? I don’t know exactly where to draw that line, but days like today make me feel as if I am not far from it in what I see around me.