Family Magazine

Cruisey Holidays in Thailand

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem

xmas beach

Growing up in the northern hemisphere mid-latitudes, it still feels strange to have Christmas on a sunny beach, but it’s not too hard to get used to.  Annual decorations were stored in our garage in stacks of boxes at home, but they’re not missed. We keep our old traditions, just in simpler ways, and shifted a little to adapt to new surroundings- as we have in Mexico, Australia, and Indonesia.

Familiar decorations set the mood and don’t have to take up a lot of storage. Our Christmas stockings are almost relics; mine and Jamie’s dating from our childhood, the children’s since they were babies. There’s a hand stitched table runner from my youth, and a collection of crocheted snowflakes that Jamie and I have put on our tree for a couple of decades now. Most of our paper-cutout nisse (little Danish gnomes) have fallen apart, but a few are left to come out to play tricks.


As much as I miss our custom of getting a fresh tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, our mast does a pretty good stand-in. Wound with tinsel, lights, and a handful of ornaments, it’s a festive centerpiece to the main cabin. The kids got tired of waiting for me and Jamie and simply decorated it themselves while we were ashore one morning. With a few drops of spruce and balsam cedar essential oils diffusing in the cabin, I can close my eyes and conjure up our old living room with swags of greenery on the mantle and columns.

Food-centric rituals are pretty portable, as long as you can find the ingredients. When the expat-oriented import markets in Phuket last week offered up applesauce and sour cream, it was just in time to make my friend Rebecca’s latke recipe and spend an evening talking about Hannukah around the dinner table.


Cookies are part of the season too, and always more fun to make with friends. Sailing north from Phuket we brought another crew member- the girls’ friend Jana from Momo. With molasses scored in Phuket, they spent the long days in transit making gingerbread cookies to leave for Santa, and a small village worth of gingerbread houses.

Cruisey holidays in Thailand
We arrived in Koh Phayam on winter solstice. Even though our location (about nine degrees above the equator) means that the difference in daylight hours difficult to discern between seasons, I can’t resist making sun bread.We put ourselves in the mood for the season, and a feeling of darker days, by reading aloud after dinner from my childhood copy of the Swedish classic- Erik And The Christmas Horse.

We’d anticipated gathering with a number of friends here in Koh Phayam but were slow to organize anything specific, so on Christmas Eve, Jamie simply donned his Santa hat and went bombing around the anchorage to set up sundowners on the beach.


A low key gathering ensued, with drinks and nibbles shared while the sun set on the Andaman Sea: Australian, Kiwi, Swiss, British, French, Canadian, American, Italian.


Tourtieres (meat pies) are a Quebecois tradition we’ve adopted for Christmas eve, so our crew brought beach-friendly mini pies. Other boats shared from their seasonal customs, like Wandoo’s rum truffles washed down with a little of Nicole’s homemade Irish cream- yum! The kids had a sizable group of friends to hang out with into the evening, while Jamie and I stayed up late wrapping gifts and watching “Love Actually”.

And then there’s the priceless tradition of an awkwardly posed family group photo, as everyone waits in vain for the shutter to click from the self-timer on a precariously perched camera. We have that one covered! But a Christmas morning brunch of waffles, REAL maple syrup (another Phuket luxury) and gin fizzes make it all good.


It feels like we’ve done so much these last couple of weeks- Jamie’s project list has been nuts, and I’m heads down trying to finish this book manuscript. At least the holiday side has been very low key, while still full of traditions that are meaningful for our family. It wasn’t until we got to Phuket in mid-December that we even heard a Christmas carol in a store: the holidays aren’t sold to us so much, so we’re able to make them our own…wiggling our toes in the sand, talking around the dinner table, telling stories into the night with friends under stars or fairy lights. But things could always get crazy. I mean, still have New Years Eve and a birthday this coming week!

~ Happy holidays from the Totem crew

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