Sunday, December 28, 2014

White Elephant Gift - the orgins and explanation

Many of us have participated in a White Elephant exchange.  We do so without even thinking.... where does the term white elephant come from? Why is the word used this way? Is a white elephant really a useless gift as the name implies when we use it at a gift exchange?

A white elephant is a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness. The term derives from the story that the kings of Siam, now Thailand, were accustomed to make a present of one of these animals to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance. In modern usage, it is an object, scheme, business venture, facility, etc., considered without use or value.

The term derives from the sacred white elephants kept by Southeast Asian monarchs in Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. To possess a white elephant was regarded (and is still regarded in Thailand and Burma) as a sign that the monarch reigned with justice and power, and that the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity. The opulence expected of anyone that owned a beast of such stature was great.

White elephants are actually Albino elephants that do exist in nature, usually being reddish-brown or pink - not really white-white.  Because the animals were considered sacred and laws protected them from labor, receiving a gift of a white elephant from a monarch was simultaneously a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because the animal was sacred and a sign of the monarch's favor, and a curse because the recipient now had an expensive-to-maintain animal he could not give away and could not put to much practical use.

In the West, the term "white elephant" relating to an expensive burden that fails to meet expectations, was popularized following P. T. Barnum's experience with an elephant named Toung Taloung that he billed as the "Sacred White Elephant of Burma". After much effort and great expense, Barnum finally acquired the animal from the King of Siam only to discover that his "white elephant" was actually dirty grey in color with a few pink spots. 

Actual White Elephant recently captured in the wilds of Myanmar

A war was fought in the 16th century between Thailand and Myanmar, then Siam and Burma respectively, over disputed ownership of four white elephants.

The expressions "white elephant" and "gift of a white elephant" came into common use in the middle of the nineteenth century.The phrase was attached to "white elephant swaps" and "white elephant sales" in the early twentieth century. Many church bazaars held “white elephant sales” where donors could unload unwanted bric-a-brac, generating profit from the phenomenon that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Many organizational and church fairs still use the term today. In general use a “white elephant” usually refers to an item that’s not useful (decorative) but may be expensive and odd.

Image of a ceramic White Elephants - similar to what was opened at our
Senior Couple White Elephant gift exchange.

Probably what you thought of in your minds eye when the concept of a White elephant was mentioned

Now you no the full story behind - the White Elephant gifts and how Thailand fits into this story.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

December ---- Holiday Month in Thailand

There are a lot of Holidays in December that are celebrated and or recognized in Thailand.
And the Meekers got involved in most of them.

The beginning of the Month has Fathers Day.  It is celebrated on December 5th.  This Holiday is an official holiday that businesses are closed and people get the corresponding time off work.  The story behind this is December 5th is also the Kings Birthday.  The King of Thailand is currently the longest reigning monarch in the world 68 and 1/2 years.  The major businesses all put up a large display visible from the Street - generally on the sidewalk entrance.  Major players are banks and such. The display is surrounded by flowers and other decorations. Below you will see displays I photographed on the Queens Birthday (Mothers Day) actually celebrated in August.  However other than the Picture being the Queen the displays are essentially identical. 

Picture of the Queen from Aug
Same setting now has he picture of the King in it

Flowers all in pots for later removal
December 10th is constitution Day in Thailand. Another holiday where every one gets off of work and the banks and government offices are closed.  The interesting thing about this holiday of course is that is that the current Thailand constitution has been suspended due to martial law as of 22nd of May 2014.  Since the coup of 1932, Thailand has had 17 constitutions and charters, with a series of intervening military coups. Historical Link

Christmas Caroling outside Erawan Hotel
Just prior to December Zone Conference Meal
Next comes Christmas.  Christmas is not an official holiday in Thailand as 95% of the country calls themselves Buddhist.  Only about 1% of  the country is Christian.  They have all of the trappings of Christmas visible - but do not really celebrate the Birth of our Savior.  There are Christmas trees, lights, packages and other Christmas type decorations.  They tend to focus on the final Holiday of the month,  New Years.  Giving gift baskets is a vey big deal.  Go to any store and you will see dozens of different sized Gift baskets filled with fruit, cookies, crackers, energy drinks and other delectable items for sale.

Sister Meeker after finishing Zone Conference Meal

We were blessed to be able to participate in the Combined Bangkok, West, East an North Missionary Zone Conference activity early in December.  We met at the Erawan hotel for some caroling in public.  After about 30 minutes of  singing or so we got down to business for an all you can eat buffet lunch at he Hotel. 

After lunch we all traveled back to the Asoke Chapel (oldest Church building in Thailand - it was actually here when I was here as a young missionary).

Sister Meeker participating in the Zone Conference
Devotional Chime Musical number Led by President Senior
We had talks, singing, more musical numbers and we listened to the Missionaries who will go home before the next Quarterly Zone Conference bear their testimonies.  It was a great meeting. After that meeting was over we had delicious gingerbread cake with Carmel sauce and Italian sodas. 

Then on the 18th of December we had the  Service Center Christmas Party. This is for the Church employees in Thailand and the Missionaries that serve out of that office.  The Mission Office shares the building with the Church Service Center Staff ( Distribution Center, Translation, Finance, Facilities Management etc.)

Sister Marina Peterson, Buechter and Peck getting ready for the Church Service Center Christmas lunch
Then we got to attend the Asoke Branch Christmas party on Saturday Dec 20th.  My, was that done well.  We had over 200 people in attendance ( For comparison sake we get about 135 out to Sacrament Meeting).
Stage all set up prior to the party beginning
Mary and Joseph cutouts were replaced with live actors during the presentation.
Each of he Organizations had a part in the program.  There was video from the Bible Video series depicting gthe Birht of the Savir.  Then we read from the Book of Luke and then we sang some songs.  The Branch Presidency (and 2 of the wives) began the program and we sang Hark the Heralds Angels Sing in Thai.

President Chamrat reading from the Book of Luke just after a Video segment from the Bible Videos
and just prior to us singing.

Brother Army and Sister Green depicting Joseph and Mary
Yong Single Adults are singing
Brother Army is a recent convert to the Church - preparing to go on a mission  Sister Green (Amarita) has received a mission Call to serve on SLC Temple Square Mission next spring.

The Primary Presidency with the 3 Primary children dressed as sheep and shepherds.
After the Gift Exchange before the Cleanup
Also included for the evening was an excellent meal.  Sister Meeker was in charge of making Pumpkin Cake.  She and he helpers made 6 large sheet cakes and decorated them ( about 200 pieces).

On Sunday was our goal date to get 5000 Saints to church in Thailand all on the same date.  Below you will see the picture of our Asoke branch just after Sacrament Meeting on Sunday 21st of December 214.  I understand we fell somewhat short of our goal. There were more than 3800 Saints at Church on Sunday in Thailand. I was blessed to be conducting the Sacrament meeting on Sunday the 21st so we were able to sing lots of Christmas songs.  It was a great Sunday.

Asoke Branch after Sacrament Meeting December 21st 2014
Celebrations are not over yet. On Christmas morning the 5 Senior Missionary couples are getting together for a Christmas Brunch.  In the evening Sister Meeker and I are serving the 7 young missionaries serving in this district ..... Christmas Dinner.  We will have pork roast, mashed potatoes, gravy etc.  Sister Meeker has also made Apple and Chocolate Pie ----- Yum.

May your Christmas season be full of the remembrance of the Birth of our Savoir Jesus Christ.
May the season be as merry as ours.
Love the Meekers
Merry Christmas and Happy New year.