You didn’t see it wrong!  We in Thailand celebrate New Year more than once.  Besides the 1st January, the Chinese New Year, between late January and early February depending on Chinese calendar, we host the Thai New Year in the hottest month of the year.  It’s called Songkran and always held between 13 and 15 of April.

Actually, Thais changed their new year at least 4 times in the past 100 years.  We used to have the 1st of April as the country’s New Year’s day but changed to the 1st of January in 1941. We also decided to keep the Songkran New Year in April as traditional new year and a national holiday.

Food Parade to the monastery in Sangkhlaburi

Photo credit: Vorapot Lakdee

There are several activities celebrated during the Songkran day that are related to the religious and joyful activities. Thai Buddhist families will prepare the food and dessert and bring them to the monastery or ‘Wat’ in the morning to offer foods to the monks as the note of the first merit making of New Year. I still remember when I was a little kid and accompanied by my grandmother and mother to the temple with foods and desserts in the baskets. I saw hundreds of small bowls filled with different kind of foods, fruits and desserts. I was wondering how the monks could consume those foods within one meal. I got the answer when the monks finished their meal which was just a few bowls of food and desserts.  The rest of the foods were given to people who attended the merit making activities that morning.  It looked like a big happy banquet party that everyone laughed, chat and ate those foods together even though some of them didn’t know each other.

Photo credit: Mongkol Pitakmoo

The religious ceremony , called “Bung Su Kul”, continues in the morning with monks giving blessings to relatives and people who passed away. Some people bring along the urns that contain their ancestors’ ashes to the monastery for the monks to pray for, hoping that their ancestors and deceased relatives would get the good Karma for which the living ones have made. The ritual ends with the urns being washed by fragrance water and petals.  This part of the ritual is varied by the regions of the country but it is based on the similar belief.

All celebrations must have a fun part and the most joyous activity always happens in the afternoon when the temperature is hiking up.  The water splashing!  It is a wise idea of whomever brought this water splashing into action on a hot day of the hottest month of the year. It could cool down the heat of the day and many people are welcome and ready to get wet!  It should be noted that it is impolite to splash the water to the elders and the monks.  It is appropriate to just gently pour a little amount of fragrance water over their shoulders or palms. In return, they will give them a blessing to sign a good start of the New Year.  This ritual has continued for centuries in the country.

Fun over the water

Photo credit: Somchia Imchoo

The Songkran or the Water Festival lasts from 3 to 7 days depending on the regions. The most popular destination for this traditional New Year celebration is the north of Thailand.  Chiang Mai is well known as the top destination for water festival and they celebrate this event for 7 consecutive days. If you come to Thailand during this period and would like to enjoy the festival, it is suggested that you protect your wallet, mobile phone, etc in water proof bags.  The street of the major cities will be filled with people coming out to throw the water upon each other.

Besides Thailand, this traditional New Year is also celebrated in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar or even in South Asia like India of which they throw colored powder instead of water.