April 13 is the traditional Thai New Year's Day, which is celebrated by the Thai people throughout the country from the old to the young and from the royalty to the ordinary people. Apart from water splashing, which is the best-known symbol of the Songkran Festival, Thai people also celebrate the festival with many other joyous activities. It is indeed the country's merriest festival.
Although this festival covers one week or more in some rural areas, the highlight of the festival is between April 13 and 15. Renowned as the most fun-filled festival, Songkran is thus a great time for foreign tourists in Thailand to enjoy the water fights and experience distinctive cultural activities in a delightful atmosphere.
Songkran is a Sanskrit word in Thai form which means the entry of the sun into any sign of the Zodiac. Thailand adopted this tradition from the ancient Brahmins in India who believed that the sun entered Aries and finished its orbit round the Earth on April 13. In northern India, April is the beginning of spring when the trees start to bud and bloom and the hibernating animals come out to find food. So, for the ancient Indian people, April was a sign of new life and marked the beginning of a new year. That is why they observed (some still do) their New Year's Day on April 13. The Thais, who established their cultural relations with the Indians even before their recorded history, readily inherited this tradition partly because they were free from farm work during this period.
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How the Thais Celebrate Songkran
Before the festival, people will clean their houses in the hope of casting away any bad luck of the old year, and bring good fortune into their lives instead. The Songkran celebrations will begin with food presentation to the monks who will walk along the streets in the early morning to receive alms. But some people will bring food to the temples nearby for the monks. And after that they may free birds or fish as a way of merit making too.
Another fun and meaningful activity is building sand pagodas, which also takes place in a temple. The pagodas are often decorated with lighted candles, colorful flags, and flowers. In the old days, people visiting the temple would often get sand stuck to their shoes, taking away the temple’s properties. So this tradition was created for people to return the sand they had taken from the temple.
In some northern rural areas, explosive sounds and loud noises will be made to chase the ghosts away. Candles will be lit and piles of wood will be burned in front of the houses on New Year's Eve to shine the way for the spirits, which old people believe will come out of their places on that night.
In big cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai, the most revered Buddha image will be carried in a procession along the streets to an open space for people to sprinkle scented water on to show their veneration. In many places, the highlight of the festival is a grand procession of floral floats carrying Miss Songkran (the beauty queen) and other beautiful girls dressed in traditional Thai costumes.
One of the activities for young people to do is to visit and convey their best wishes to their elders by pouring water on them or their palms, and the elders will give blessings to them in return. After this, it is time for children and young people to have a good time in water throwing, dancing and folk games.
The Significance of Water
Some readers may wonder why water is used as a means of greetings, blessing and showing respect in the Songkran Festival. In fact, water is used for such purposes not only at the Songkran Festival, but also at other Thai traditional rites, such as weddings and funerals. The reason is that the Thais in olden times held that water was a pure thing which was able to wash all kinds of evil and misfortune away and bring good luck and happiness with it.
Young people pour water on the elder's palms to show respect.
Songkran as a Family Bond
In former times when transportation was difficult, Songkran Day was specially significant to the Thai people. Because, in addition to its importance as New Year's Day, when boys and girls had a chance to meet one another and children had a lot of fun, Songkran, like Christmas Day of the Westerners and the Spring Festival of the Chinese, means the day when members of a family, usually scattered in far away places, have a chance to stay, enjoy and celebrate together in a family reunion.
Where to Celebrate
The Songkran Festival is celebrated nationwide from 13-15 April. But in some provinces they celebrate the festival later than normal. Major places famous for their grand celebrations are: Bangkok - Khao San Road and Silom Road (13-15 April), Chiang Mai (13-15 April), Phuket (13-15 April), Samut Prakan – Phra Pradaeng (21-23 April), Pattaya (17-19 April), Khon Kaen (5-15 April)
Apart from these places, you can take part in this joyous festival in many other tourist cities (log on to www.thaiwaysmagazine.com for detailed information). In all places, colourful and splendid processions, a Miss Songkran contest, folk dances and traditional games are held. No matter which place you may visit during the festival, you are sure to find great fun. However, if you are not prepared to get wet you are advised to stay at a distance from the crowds.
So, if you are planning a vacation in April, why not take this opportunity to join the Thai people in their celebrations and be part of the most fun-filled water festival in the world!
Do’s and Don'ts for Songkran Festival
- Before you go out, get a zip lock bag to prevent your phone and wallet from getting wet. And you should carry only essentials like phone and some cash.
- Bring a water bottle to keep your body hydrated as you will be highly active all day long.
- If you are a woman, you should dress decently and modestly. Try not to dress provocatively – especially spaghetti strap tops or white t-shirts that become revealing when wet. Thai people are traditionally conservative, but some young men may take advantage of the festival atmosphere to grope you.
- Ground is wet everywhere during the Songkran festival, so you should wear sandals or flip-flops with a firm grip to the ground to avoid accidents.
- Use clean water for splashing. And after joining the water splash, you should take a shower, otherwise you may get a skin rash.
- The most important thing is to smile and have fun. This is the time of celebration.
- So, let’s enjoy it with the Thai people.
- Never throw water at motorcyclists. It may unbalance them and cause accidents. Also, don’t throw water at monks, babies or the elderly.
- Avoid putting talcum powder on women’s faces. Indecent touching has been banned and it is better to avoid any misunderstanding.
- Avoid drinking alcohol. If you get wild and rowdy, you may consequently get into trouble.
- Do not use high-pressure water gun. It is illegal and can cause injuries too.
- Women should avoid applying heavy makeup. Since it’s a water festival, your makeup may get spoiled by a splash of water.
- Do not carry your passport, credit cards or other important documents with you. There is a risk of your important documents getting wet. Make a photocopy of your passport and laminate it to take out with you and leave all important documents in the hotel safe.