Songkran Festival: Thai New Year

Songkran Festival: Thai New Year

imageI am a big fan of spring and of water gun fights. But in the United States, we’re not so accustomed to having huge ones with all of our neighbors--and definitely not in the chilly springtime.  And most of us have to quit the habit after we’re, oh, 10 or so. Thais are a lot luckier than we are.

In Thailand, the coming of spring is celebrated with a huge, country-wide water fight—the Songkran Festival. Thais from cities and rural areas alike load up on water pistols and talcum powder paste and spray and smear their neighbors during these days of revelry.

Today in Thailand, Jeep pick-ups are full of enthusiastic soaked Thais as they spray the hoards of people that throng in the streets. Others use garden hoses and soak their neighbors as they walk by. Nobody is safe—foreigners are caught up in the action the same as their Thai neighbors.

Songkran is a Thai and Sanskrit word that means the time when the sun enters any sign of the Zodiac.  The Songkran Festival, in particular, is when the sun enters the sign of Aries—this Songkran is the only time Thais use the word.

Also celebrated in Burma, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, Thais Songkran Festival is the biggest and most exuberant.  It is the Thai New Year and a national holiday—people have work off—from April 13th to the 15th or 16th

The tradition of soaking people with water and talcum powder comes from the ancient tradition in the Buddhist country of cleansing Buddhist statues with water and powder.  This tradition is taken to the streets, as well, in many cities--Thais drag large-scale Buddha sculptures being dragged through the streets, giving people opportunities to bath Buddhas outside of the monastery.

Some traditional Thais take offense to more modern traditions like water soaking and squirt guns, preferring that the holiday return more of its religion aspects. These people prefer the other, more spiritual aspects of the New Year's celebration. Spiritual components include praying with and bringing foods for monks, making New Years’ resolutions for better behavior and bringing handfuls of dirt or sand to local monasteries to make amends for the dirt or sand worshippers took away on their feet during the year. 

Comparing the Songkran Festival to any American holiday—it is most similar to April Fool’s Day. Women play pranks on men—women will tie a man up and cover him with black powder.  

The largest celebrations in the country are in the largest cities, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Located 435 miles from Thailand’s largest city, Chiang Mai, stated by many as the best place to celebrate the New Year, holds the celebration for at least six days, sometimes it lasts even longer. The city itself has about 150,000 residents, but because of celebrations like this one, to which many Thais and foreign residents flock, the city has been attracting more than 5 million tourists every year.     

The celebration also happens in the Southern provinces, which are filled with Muslim insurgents who want their freedom from the rest of the state.  A temporary reprieve was held today as the Southern Thais celebrated their New Year with water games, but police and soldiers tightened their security forces in these regions, as well. 

Sources and further reading:

http://www.thailandlife.com/songkran-festival/index.php

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/13/songkran-festival-thai-new-year_n_848583.html

http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/231818/colourful-songkran-grab-thais