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Songkran - The Old Thai New Year

Songkran - The Old Thai New Year is one of the biggest and most popular festivals in Thailand. Some people call Songkran 'The Water Festival', but it is actually the old style Thai New Year, in the same way that China celebrates its own New Year in February. Songkran, the old Thai New Year is in the second week of April and often coincides with Easter. All Thais celebrate Songkran and hundreds of thousands of foreigners come to Thailand to join in and help them.

Songkran - The Old Thai New Year

Most areas of Thailand celebrate Songkran from the 13th to the 15th of April, but some areas have an extended festival. For example, Prae city, in the northeast, celebrates Songkran from the 13th to the 18th as does Chiang Mai, which most foreigners consider the best place to celebrate the New Yea. Pattaya celebrates it from the 13th to the 19th and Naklua, just outside Pattaya stretches the holidays by another day as well to the 20th.

In the early days, Songkran (which means 'astrological passage' from the Sanskrit), was set by astrological calculation, like Easter in the West, but the dates are now fixed. Songkran actually did mark the beginning of Thailand's new Year until 1888, when it was changed to April 1st.

In 1940, Thailand adopted January 1st as the beginning of the year, since when the old Thai New Year, Songkran, has been a national holiday. This is handy, because Songkran falls in the hottest season of the year.

The most obvious manifestation of the celebrations is the throwing of water. In the cities Thais and foreigners spray or throw water over each other and everyone else. They also dab a mixture of talcum powder and water on each others' cheeks for good luck.

In the villages, Songkran is a lot more polite> People do not ask to throw water in the cities, whereas they do ask permission in the villages. The same goes for dabbing talc-water onto your face. However, this was not the original idea of the festival. Originally, people used the time to visit elderly relatives.

In fact, in some areas they still observe the tradition of 'Washing The Granny'. This is not always an elderly woman, it can be a man. It is considered good luck to participate in the ceremony.

It is also a great honour to be asked to participate. People also cleanse images of Buddha for good luck. This can either be done in the Wat (Temple) itself or in some places the images are paraded through the streets. This is the meaning of throwing water during the festival in fact.

It is meant as an act of cleansing, but it is also a very welcome chance to cool off during the sweltering heat of Songkran - the old Thai New Year, when temperatures are usually in the high thirties or even forty-odd degrees Celsius.

Songkran is an excellent time of the year to visit Thailand and take part in the ancient festival of Songkran - the old Thai New Year.

by +Owen Jones


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