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Valentine's day belittles Makha Bucha

By Achara Deboonme, The Nation, February 6, 2009

Bangkok, Thailand -- I got a very bad feeling while watching "168 Hours" on Channel 3 on Wednesday night. As the title song ended, host Boat Viboolnant appeared.

I felt elated by his introductory speech, in which he said next week there would be a very important day. Then my heart flopped when I realised the day he was mentioning was Valentine's Day, not Makha Bucha Day. It would have been much better if he had mentioned both days and then told the audience that the programme would focus on Valentine's Day to fit its variety format.

I cannot help jumping to the conclusion that Thais are obsessed with Western culture. When people in the West celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Thais bring Christmas trees into their homes and shops deck themselves out all in red.

It's fine that our New Year's celebration is grand, as people around the globe do it up in style. Yet how many consider Songkran to be the real Thai New Year? Most people, both in the capital and upcountry, simply take it to be a festive season, with a long holiday period that allows for family get-togethers or a trip away from home.

Thais call themselves Buddhists. I remember when the government petitioned the Taleban against the destruction of those two huge Buddha statues in Afghanistan and complained about foreigners' mistreatment of Buddha images in Thailand. In a way, that convinced me Thailand was the leader among Buddhist nations.

But when it comes to Buddhist religious holidays like Makha Bucha, which falls next Monday this year, the government and the public have done so little. Notably, the day marks the dissemination of Buddhist principles - cease from doing evil, do only good, cleanse one's mind - which sounds perfect for all victims of the present global crisis.

But how many polling houses have allocated funds for surveys regarding Makha Bucha Day? I know of none, and yesterday a Dusit poll on Valentine's Day was announced. Sponsored by the Public Health Ministry, it was meant to promote safe sex among youth. Indeed, the funds could have been allocated to a campaign to draw them to Makha Bucha Day celebrations.

It is too late to take any action on that this year, but there is still time to do something for the upcoming Visakha (Vesak in Pali) Bucha Day - which marks the birth, enlightenment (Nirvana) and passing (Parinirvana) of Gautama Buddha.

Actually, more could be done, as in May there are no major celebrations in the West, or at least none that Thailand has embraced.

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