Songkran is an unforgettably festive event based on an ancient ritual. Celebrated in cities across Thailand as well as around the world, the holiday celebrates the Thai new year. In the past, the date of the festival was not constant, revolving instead around the zodiac’s calendar, but in 1940 the date for the new year was officially set at January 1 to coincide with the Western calendar. The Songkran Festival, however, is celebrated as the traditional new year in April.
Thai New Year Image: james_antrobus (flickr)
Songkran, which means “new year” or “astrological passage” in Thai, is now celebrated annually between April 13 and April 15, though some festivities last even longer. There are events held around the country, with individual cities creating their own schedules of parades, activities, and contents in celebration of the holiday.
The Thailand water festival celebration in the northern city of Chiang Mai is one of the most popular festivals, and this city is still known as the heart of Songkran’s celebrations. With decorative floats, parades, and special events scheduled, the festivities can last up to six days.
Songkran Thailand Image: John Shederick (flickr)
Each of the three days of the festival has a meaning. The first day symbolizes the end of the outgoing year. The second day marks the ending of the old and beginning of the new. The third day symbolizes the first day of the New Year begins and the last day to honor elders and ancestors. The common thread among all of the celebrations when bringing in the New Year is the use of water. The traditional act of throwing water during Songkran is a cleansing ritual to promote good luck in the upcoming year.
Traditional festivities, along with water throwing, include individuals visiting elder members of the family and community to pay respect. Cleaning Buddha images from local monasteries with scented water then reusing the “blessed” water on others is another traditional ritual and a way to ensure good luck for the New Year. Wearing chalk on the face is also part of the Thailand Water Festival ritual as it depicts the use of chalk by monks for blessings. On a larger scale, parades through the city with images of Buddha displayed on floats allow those gathered for the parade a chance to throw water at the images to symbolically cleanse them.
Songkran Image: soma-samui.com (flickr)
The traditional ritual of cleansing by applying fragranced water lightly to another has slowly evolved into the modern interpretation of using whatever type of container is handy filled with water to drench recipients. The ritual has taken on a street-party atmosphere with people on foot or in vehicles making their way through gathered crowds and dousing onlookers as well as drivers of cars and motorcycles. A unique water dispenser during this Thailand water festival is the use of elephants; handlers ride the animals, decorated with colorful chalk designs, along the parade route, and the elephants use their trunks as a sprayer to anoint anyone within range.
The Songkran festival is a popular time to visit Thailand, so book your flights and hotels in Thailand early if your heart is set on being their for the water festival. Although Chiang Mai still has the most famous and most extensive celebrations, there are Songkran events held in Phuket, Patong, Bangkok, and beyond, so you can participate in the festivities no matter what part of the country you choose to visit.
Image: John Shederick (flickr)