Songkran

Songkran (Water Festival, New Year's Day in Thailand)

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Religious (Buddhism)
Date of Observation: April 13-15
Where Celebrated: Thailand
Symbols and Customs: Water
Related Holidays: Holi

ORIGINS

Songkran is part of the tradition of Buddhism, one of the four largest religious families in the world. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B . C . E .), who came to be known as Buddha, or "The Enlightened One." The basic tenets of Buddhism can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the truth and reality of suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) the way to end suffering is to end desire; and 4) the Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of 1) right view or right understanding; 2) right thoughts and aspirations; 3) right speech; 4) right conduct and action; 5) right way of life; 6) right effort; 7) right mindfulness; and 8) right contemplation.

Songkran is the traditional New Year's Day celebration in Thailand, observed near the time of the VERNAL EQUINOX. The festivities, which are secular as well as religious, take place over a three-day period and include colorful processions and traditional games. The most widespread custom on this day, however, is throwing or sprinkling WATER on images of the Buddha, a traditional purification rite which usually leads to people throwing water at each other. Water-filled plastic bags are sold everywhere, so that everyone-even tourists-can join in the celebration. Not surprisingly, the most popular gift on this holiday is a towel.

The tendency among young people to douse each other with water can often get out of hand. But most people are careful to show respect to their elders by sprinkling water on their hands or feet. Monks, too, are shown respect by bringing them offerings of rice, meat, and fruit and by blessing them with a small amount of water.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Water

It is considered a blessing to be soaked with water on Songkran because it symbolizes the washing away of all the old year's evils and the giving of new life. For the same reason, it is common for people to release pet birds from their cages and to pour fish from their fishbowls into the river.

The custom of throwing water at one another is believed to have derived from the Hindu celebration of HOLI. It should also be remembered that, while New Year's Day in the United States falls at the coldest time of year, in Thailand it can be extremely hot in April, which makes the water-splashing custom more welcome than it might be elsewhere.

FURTHER READING

Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Shemanski, Frances. A Guide to World Fairs and Festivals. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986. Songkran
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Songkran

Around April 12-15 (when the Sun enters Aries)
Songkran is the traditional New Year in Thailand and a public holiday. The celebration actually lasts for three days in mid-April, and takes the form of religious ceremonies as well as public festivities. Merit-making ceremonies are held at Buddhist temples, water is sprinkled on Buddhist images, and captive birds and fish are freed. Water-splashing on the streets is also a part of the festivities, especially among young people. The young do not splash older people, but instead sprinkle water on their hands or feet to honor them.
The celebration is held with special Élan in Chiang Mai with beauty contests, parades, dancing, and, of course, water splashing.
See also Water-Splashing Festival
CONTACTS:
Tourism Authority of Thailand
611 N. Larchmont Blvd., 1st Fl.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
800-842-4526 or 323-461-9814; fax: 323-461-9834
www.tourismthailand.org
SOURCES:
AnnivHol-2000, p. 61
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 11
BkHolWrld-1986, Apr 13
EncyRel-1987, vol. 2, p. 553
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 294
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 174
RelHolCal-2004, p. 219
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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