The Thai New Year (Thai: สงกรานต์ Songkran, from Sanskrit sankrānthi "astrological passage"; Chinese: 潑水節) is celebrated every year from April 13 to April 15. It coincides with the New Year of many calendars of South and Southeast Asia.
The date of the festival was originally set by astrological calculation, but it is now fixed. If these days fall on a weekend, the missed days off are taken on the weekdays immediately following. If they fall in the middle of the week, many Thai take off from the previous Friday until the following Monday. Songkran falls in the hottest time of the year in Thailand, at the end of the dry season. Until 1888 the Thai New Year was the beginning of the year in Thailand; thereafter 1 April was used until 1940. 1 January is now the beginning of the year. The traditional Thai New Year has been a national holiday since then.
New year traditions
The most obvious celebration of Songkran is the throwing of water. People roam the streets with containers of water or water guns, or post themselves at the side of roads with a garden hose and drench each other and passersby. This, however, was not always the main activity of this festival. Songkran was traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends and neighbors.
Besides the throwing of water, people celebrating Songkran may also go to a wat (Buddhist monastery) to pray and give food to monks. They may also cleanse Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries by gently pouring water mixed with a Thai fragrance (Thai: น้ำอบไทย) over them. It is believed that doing this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year. In many cities, such as Chiang Mai, the Buddha images from all of the city's important monasteries are paraded through the streets so that people can toss water at them, ritually 'bathing' the images, as they pass by on ornately decorated floats. In northern Thailand, people may carry handfuls of sand to their neighborhood monastery in order to recompense the dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the rest of the year. The sand is then sculpted into stupa-shaped piles and decorated with colorful flags.
Some people make New Year resolutions - to refrain from bad behavior, or to do good things. Songkran is a time for cleaning and renewal. Besides washing household Buddha images, many Thais also take this opportunity to give their home a thorough cleaning.
The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this "blessed" water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100°F or 40°C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.
Nowadays, the emphasis is on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival's spiritual and religious aspects, which sometimes prompts complaints from traditionalists. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival to lessen the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists.
The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes filled with fragrant herbs.
Songkran is also celebrated in many places with a pageant in which young women demonstrate their beauty and unique talents, as judged by the audience. The level of financial support usually determines the winner, since, to show your support you must purchase necklaces which you place on your chosen girl.
Although the traditional calendar of Thailand like most of Southeast Asia utilizes a lunisolar calendar, the date of the new year was calculated on a purely solar basis. The term Songkran comes from Sanskrit "Sankranta" and means "a move or change" - in this case the move of the sun into the Aries zodiac. Originally this happened at the vernal equinox, but, as the Thai astrology did not observe precession, the date moved from March to April.
The traditional new year celebration in Sri Lanka also coincides with the Thai new year.
The traditional greeting is "สวัสดีปีใหม่" (sa-wat-dee pee mai), basically "Happy New Year". Sawatdee is also used for "hello" or "goodbye" (Romanized spellings may vary between sawatdee, sawadee and sawasdee). Pee and mai means "year" and "new" respectively in Thai. Another greeting used is "สุขสันต์ปีใหม่" (suk-san pee mai), where suksan means "happy".
However, most people use "สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์" (suk-san wan songkran) — meaning "Happy Songkran Day" — since pee mai is more often linked with the first of January. Suksan is also used as an attribute for other days such as Valentine's Day ("สุขสันต์วันแห่งความรัก" suk-san wan haeng khwam rak; Happy Valentine's Day).
In other calendars
Songkran is also celebrated in Laos (called pee mai lao), Cambodia (called Chaul Chnam Thmey, Cambodian New Year), Myanmar (called Thingyan), and by the Dai people in Yunnan, China. The same day is celebrated in South Asian calendars as well: the Assamese (called Rongali Bihu), Bengali (called Pohela Boishakh), Oriya (called Maha Visuba Sankranthi), Malayali, Punjabi, Sinhalese, and Tamil New Years fall on the same dates, based on the astrological event of the sun beginning its northward journey. It occurs at the same time as that given by Bede for festivals of Eostre—and Easter weekend occasionally coincides with Songkran (most recently 1979, 1990, and 2001, but not again until 2085).
Other places celebrate with water but more traditionally, such as the Water-Splashing Festival of Chiang Rung (Jinghong), China.
- ↑ http://sunsite.au.ac.th/thailand/special_event/songkran/index.html
- ↑ http://www.festivalsofindia.in/makarsankranti
- ↑ http://www.assa.org.au/edm.html#List20
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