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December 20, 2012

Local Voices from Around the Globe: The birthday of a king

His photo is in every home, restaurant, school and hotel in Thailand. He was born in Cambridge, Mass., to a prince and a princess. At 60 years of holding the position, he is the world’s longest serving head of state. He is a professional jazz saxophonist, sailor and sailboat designer. His net worth is valued at approximately $35 billion. He is Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), the King of Thailand, and Dec. 5 was his 85th birthday.

The day prior, my host mother gave me a yellow shirt inscribed with the text “Love for our Father” to wear to the provincial ceremony. Thais love their king with an immense passion and recognize him as “the father of the nation.” For this reason the king’s birthday is also Father’s Day and all fathers are celebrated. Most Thais wear yellow, too, because the king was born on a Monday and yellow is the traditional color of Monday. 

We woke at a very early hour the following morning in order to arrive at the central plaza before too many others did. It is tradition, on the birthday of the king, to give offerings to monks in order to make merit for oneself and pray for the health and life of the king. An early arrival is crucial to obtain an optimal location in the long lines of people donating to the procession of monks.

School was closed for the national holiday and, instead, a Father’s Day ceremony was held in which the school band performed a concert in honor of the king. Some selections played were composed by the king himself. In Bangkok, the country’s capital, a similar concert was performed, the difference being there were nearly 50,000 people in attendance.

In the capital, Thais had begun gathering days earlier as the ceremony there is easily the largest in the nation. The king addressed the crowd, as is the annual custom of the event, on the greatness of the nation and later prayed to the monks for his health and longevity. Following the ceremony, a fireworks display to rival that of New York’s Fourth of July show was exhibited and the night sky over the king’s palace was lit by the light of a people devoted. Watching on television, I noted that the ceremony brought many to tears.

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