December 5 is a public holiday in Thailand in honour of the late king, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Thai monarch was born on December 5 and this date is also celebrated as Father’s Day in recognition of a man who was fondly regarded as the ‘Father of The Nation’.
paying respects to the King at Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai
Celebrating the life of the King
During his lifetime, the king’s birthday on December 5 was a national day of celebration. Provinces throughout Thailand staged special events with fireworks, candle-lit ceremonies and music concerts. Commemorative events are likely to be more subdued in the years after the passing of the king, but December 5 will remain a day for the king’s life and achievements to be celebrated. In Bangkok, it has been a tradition in December for Ratchadamnoen Avenue and the area around the Grand Palace to be beautifully illuminated with strings of lights and it is expected that this tradition will continue.
December lights along Ratchadamnoen Avenue, Bangkok
The Thai king was a keen photographer and sailor, but it is music where King Bhumibol was particularly renowned. He was an accomplished saxophone and clarinet player and his fondness for jazz saw him compose and perform his own works. The king’s love for music is the inspiration behind Concert in the Park, a series of free concerts which takes place during the cool season months at Lumphini Park in Bangkok.
street mural in Phuket Town in honour of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej
The early years
The Thai king has an interesting background. His father, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, was studying in the USA at Harvard and the future monarch was born at a hospital in Massachusetts on December 5th, 1927. The young Bhumibol was educated in Thailand and Switzerland and it was in Europe where he met his future wife, Sirikit, daughter of the Thai ambassador to France. It was also in Switzerland where the future monarch was involved in a motor accident which resulted in him losing the sight in his right eye.
portrait of the late king at the clocktower, Hua Hin
King Bhumibol acceded to the throne in 1946 when he was 18 years old and became Rama IX, the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty. To allow the young king to complete his education, the coronation was delayed until 1950. He married Queen Sirikit on April 28th 1950 with his coronation a week later on May 5th.
Yellow and pink for the King
Yellow is the colour associated with the king’s birthday (a Monday). The king’s royal standard is yellow, but during the later years of his life he also became associated with the colour pink. The king endured health problems in the twilight of his reign and in 2007 royal astrologers announced that pink was good for the king’s health. This sparked a fashion craze in Thailand with people from all walks of life rushing to buy pink shirts to follow the lead of the king. In the days leading up to the king’s death, thousands of well-wishers dressed in pink polo-shirts gathered outside Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok.
portrait on display in Chiang Mai
King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit established numerous Royal Projects to improve life in villages throughout Thailand. The couple’s compassion and the longevity of their reign led them to being viewed affectionately by many Thais as the ‘Royal Father’ and ‘Royal Mother’. Just as the king’s birthday on December 5 is celebrated as Father’s Day in Thailand, the queen’s birthday on August 12 is celebrated as Mother’s Day.
portrait in Lopburi recreating a famous photograph of the King
When the king was alive, his birthday was a day of celebration. Events may be more muted in subsequent years, but December 5 will still be a day when Thailand remembers the ‘Father of the Nation’. A popular sentiment widely shared on social media in the days after the king’s death sums up the feeling of many Thais: “We aren’t the best country in the world, but we were the country with the best King in the world.”