In Thailand we are celebrating the new year three times every year.
First, we celebrate on December 31st – it’s the Western new year of course, with fireworks and parties.
Then, we celebrate again around February (when exactly depends on the moon), because that’s when Chinese new year takes place, and because there are so much Thai people whose ancestors come from China, and because there is such a strong tie between Thailand and China, we celebrate their new year too.
And finally, in April we celebrate our own new year: this is called Songkran (สงกรานต์ in Thai), and many tourists love it because we like to play with water during that festival.
(This festival also takes place during the hottest time of the year, and playing with water is very refreshing and fun in the hot sun).
This year (2012) we celebrate the Thai new year between April 12 to April 15. Yes, that’s four days – but most people celebrate even longer than that. Because Thai people like to enjoy life and celebrate too. And especially if you travel to Chiang Mai (in Northern Thailand) during Songkran – because there, they sometimes like to celebrate for even two weeks!
Actually, this playing with water is a very ancient tradition, but in the past couple of years it’s kind of morphed into something modern in many places in Thailand, particularly in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other large cities.
Originally it was a very calm and quiet and respectful way of giving blessings to other people by gently pouring sacred water over them.
The original Thai Songkran
The traditional Thai songkran also entails that the people make offerings to the monks. This is to bring good fortune to their families, and also to honor their ancestors.
Nowadays, in the big cities, and particularly in places like the Khao San Road and Silom Road, it’s a big water-fight, and if you even just want to walk past there you should either leave your mobile phone at home or put it in a zealed zip-lock plastic bag to protect it from water damage.
The younger people of the family also make flower garlands for the older people, and then pour scented water over these garlands. Then the elder people give them their blessings in return, and while doing so they sprinkle sacred water over them.
Thai people like to celebrate with their family
During Songkran you will often notice that food is not easy to find in many places – because many people who make a living selling food come from upcountry. And most of them travel back to their villages during Songkran to celebrate with their families. However, those who sell to tourists are still often there, so don’t worry about being hungry – you might just have a little bit less choice during that time.
What does Songkran mean?
The word songkran means that the sun is passing through a new configuration of stars.
Welcome to the future
By the way, the Thai new year starts in April, but it’s actually not the same year like in other places: for example, now (2012) we are in the year 2555. That is because the Western calender is based on Jesus Christ, whereas the Thai calendar is based on Gautama Buddha. If you ever wonder what year it is in Thailand, all you have to do is take the Western year and add 543 to it, because that is the time when Buddha died.