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Thailand is a country with a rich cultural heritage. There are holidays and celebrations all through the year: Songkran, the Thai New Year, is the most important one.
With celebrations lasting up to a week, the New Year marks the end of the dry season with religious ceremonies and water fights, now a trademark of the festival.
Water is an extremely important part of this festival. As a symbol of renewal in Buddhism, water is splashed on statues of Buddha for good luck, and younger generations bathe the hands of the elderly to receive their blessing in return. Finally, people gather in the streets to join huge water fights.
In 2019, the Thai New Year will be held from April 13th to 15th: if you’re travelling in Thailand, don’t miss the opportunity to join in the joyful celebrations.
The word songkran comes from Hindu and literally means “astrological passage”. Usually, the New Year celebrations last three days:
Since Thailand is such a big country, people in different places follow different customs.
Water fights are an important part of the New Year celebrations. April is the hottest time of year in Thailand, and fighting with water is an excellent way to cool down.
Streets are closed to traffic and used as arenas: huge crowds of people gather to fight with water using pipes, buckets and water guns. It’s an activity that the younger generations love: foreigners are more than welcome to join in!
Enjoy the water fights with a light heart: this is the Thai people’s way of giving you their blessing and sharing they joy with you.
If you really want to experience the best of the festival, go to Bangkok or Chiang Mai: where the biggest celebrations are held.
The capital of Thailand is a unique place if you wish to enjoy New Year.
On Silom, a five-kilometer long street in the center of the city, thousands of people gather to splash everyone with anything they can find, from buckets to water guns.
Opposite the Grand Palace, on Sanam Luang, you can admire the statue of the Buddha on the 13th of April. The statue will be carried around so people can sprinkle water on it for good luck. People will also build sand pagodas and visit the temples for merit-making.
Heading to the temples will let you participate in traditional songkran customs: people go there to offer food to the monks, and to gain merit by paying their respects to the Buddha and to their ancestors, and by pouring scented water on the statues of Buddha.
This beautiful town in the north of Thailand hosts the biggest Songkran celebrations in the world.
There are water fights all over the city: if you find yourself near the Ping River, or near canals or lakes, be prepared to be soaked from head to toe.
On 12th April, you can participate in a parade with Buddha images from all over the city, accompanied by minstrels and local people.
Buddhists spend the 13th and 14th going to a wat (a Buddhist monastery) to pray and offer food to monks. They wash the statues of Buddha in their houses with perfumed water.
People carry sand to their monastery as compensation for all the sand they brought away under their feet during the year. The sand is used to build a stupa decorated with colorful flags.
On the 15th, people pay homage to their ancestors and elders.
The holiday is extremely important to Buddhists, and the most important part of the celebration is merit-making. Merit is a fundamental concept in Buddhism: it is an external force which gains strength from good actions or thoughts, and protects the Buddhist from evil forces.
Offering food to monks in the local temples is the most common merit-making practice. Buddhists wash themselves and the Buddha statues to get rid of sins and bad luck. Young people usually pour water on the palms of the elderly to receive their blessing in return and to gain good luck for the coming year.
Another important part of the holiday is appreciation of family. People travel back to their hometowns to spend the holiday with loved ones and pay their respects to dear departed.
During a songkran, the sun will pass from one zodiacal sign to another. On this particular one, when New Year is celebrated, the sun goes into Aries. For Buddhism, this is an auspicious movement of the heavenly bodies, hence the importance of the day.
In the past, the New Year was held in the first month of the lunar calendar. Today it is in the fifth month: the reasons for this change relate to the former customs of the Thai people in the south of China, their culture of rice farming and Buddhism, which incorporates a lot of astrological beliefs.
The Thais migrated from southern China into Thailand around 200 BC. Their calendar was lunar, but after migrating southwards they had to adapt to the different temperatures of Central Thailand, and they had to switch New Year to April, to coincide with the end of the dry season.
Water fights are an extremely fun way to celebrate the end of the dry season. If you want to join them, follow these tips to avoid any problems.
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