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Christmas Spirit in the Tropics

Have you ever thought about what it is like to spend Christmas away from home? For most of us, that grew up in the Northern hemisphere, the Christmas holidays mean time spent with ours families around the fireplace, with a cup of hot wine and sometimes even snow (if we’re lucky)…

How do expats on Koh Tao celebrate Christmas?

Since Christmas time means also holiday time, many Europeans escape the cold winter at home and visit us in the tropics to spend the holidays together. In return for us this means it’s the busiest time of the year, with many guests, students and fun divers around.

But how do we actually spend a typical Christmas here on Koh Tao?


The Family

Living an expat life means that we are typically used to being away from our families. But there are certain times of the year, like Christmas, when it gets hard and you miss your family at home even more. Luckily in the days of high-speed Internet connections, it’s relatively easy to have a video chat with Mum and Dad and wish them happy holidays. (If only someone could invent a technology where you could smell your Mum’s Christmas roast through the phone…)

But we’re not just sitting home alone during the holidays – instead our friends and colleagues turn into our surrogate families. And just like any good family get-together at home, where your Uncle gets drunk a little bit too early throughout the day and your Grandma gives you that same awful pair of socks every year, our friends’ Christmas get-togethers tend to get out of hand, too.

The Food

Before I started writing this blog post, I asked around the team what everyone missed most about Christmas abroad, and most of the answers circled around food. It was ‘Mince pies’ and ‘Celebrations’ for my colleagues from the UK, ‘Foie Gras’ for our French Instructor and for me personally it’s German Lebkuchen and Glühwein, that I miss the most.

Luckily we are living in a relatively big expat community on Koh Tao and in the weeks before Christmas our local supermarket stocks a lot of Western delicacies. It might have been more difficult a few years back, but these days you can get anything from duck breast to brussel sprouts to cook your own delicious Christmas dinner.


Going out for lunch or dinner can sometimes be a lot cheaper than cooking at home, so many of the long-term bungalows and apartments here on the island don’t even come with their own kitchen. Many of the local restaurants open for Christmas and prepare some wonderful options that cater for every taste and budget.

The Traditions

Growing up in Germany, the most precious Christmas traditions for me are Christmas markets, Advent calendars and opening your Christmas presents on the 24th of December – don’t even think about arguing with me on that!

While it can feel a bit weird to not have these typical anchor points in the time leading up to Christmas, in return we get to adopt a lot of new traditions! Over the years I’ve been introduced to a lot of quirky and charming traditions from my new friends from England, America, Spain, Russia, France, Finland and the Netherlands (I could continue this list – but you get the idea…)

Oh, and Santa doesn’t use his reindeer to travel to Koh Tao, but he actually arrives on a longtail boat – true story!

The Presents

Despite Christmas being a Christian holiday, the Thais absolutely love this holiday. There is of course the commercial part of it, with all the sparkly and glittery decorations around, that plays a certain role. But even more important is the fact that Christmas means you have time to spend with your families.

You could argue about it, but for most of us Christmas is not the same without unwrapping at least one present. It’s usually not so much about the present itself (event though I wouldn’t mind, if anyone actually followed my Christmas wish list for this year), than more the process of unwrapping it that is something magical.

Here at Master Divers we traditionally organise a round of Secret Santa (also known as ‘White Elephant’, ‘Julklapp’ or ‘Wichteln’) together with our friends and colleagues from the Coconut Monkey. And in the days leading up to our Christmas party you hear a lot of whispering and giggling around, wondering what’s going to be this year’s most amazing gifts – but in all fairness it’s going to be rather difficult to beat last year’s highlight: A wall clock with a picture of the Eiffel Tower and the inscription ‘Big Ben’ underneath…



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