Folks in Thailand are preparing for Songkran, the festival marking the Thai New Year. Celebrated nationwide, the most famous of the Songkran celebrations takes place in Chiangmai, the city where I will be stationed in the future. It is a festival that I remember from my childhood as it always involves time off from school and activity that would not be considered appropriate at any other time of the year. The Songkran Festival in Chiangmai now attracts thousands of visitors from all over Thailand, as well as many international tourists who are determined to share the fun. While we won’t be in Chiangmai this year, I am curious to see how the festival is celebrated in Bangkok.
Songkran Festival, which will be marked on April 13-15 this year, is a national holiday best known for the copious quantities of water thrown from buckets on unsuspecting passersby. Those who are drenched quickly appreciate how cooling this fun-filled festival really is, especially during the peak of the summer heat wave. It is hot here now, with temperatures in the 90’s during the day combined with 60-70% humidity. I find that I am not bothered by the temperature, thanks to my years in Texas, but the high humidity makes any significant time outside uncomfortable. Fortunately, there is always a restaurant, store, or hotel nearby that one can duck into to cool off.
For the Thai people, Songkran has some serious elements, too. There is the annual bathing of Buddha images carried out at temples and homes across the country by the faithful in this land that is 98% Buddhist. Children also sprinkle water on the elderly to pay respect. In this gentle way, the festival reflects the time-honored traditions of a nation that respects age and the role of seniors in a family environment.
On the first day of Songkran, it is traditional for the Thai people to clean their homes in preparation for the year ahead. The following day is given over to the preparation of food and special meals to be consumed during the festival. The third day is the start of the Thai New Year and is marked by religious ceremonies which usually take place early in the morning.
While the religious and cultural aspects are not forgotten, this three-day festival majors on the fun of splashing friends, and even strangers, with a bucket of water, or any other container that comes in handy. Everyone takes it in good spirits, laughing and often returning the pleasure in good measure. As children, we used to take buckets of water to the gate of our compound and throw bowls of water dipped from those buckets over those who rode by on bicycles. Mom and Dad taught us early to focus on young men and women and to give the elderly a pass. I like to think that we were also kind to those who walked by, especially if they were burdened with packages or baskets of produce.
Needless to say, no significant business will be conducted next week. With a three-day holiday, many people take the entire week off. Many stores will be closed. We will be confined to the compound at the Guesthouse, I think, unless we are prepared for the consequences of stepping out into the public domain. Happy New Year!