While most countries celebrate New Year’s Eve on December 31st, there are five countries that hold their own unique celebrations on days that are relevant to their own calendar. One of the most unique and exciting of these 5 celebrations is Thai New Year, also known as Songkran. The official day of the New Year is April 13th, however the celebrations typically go on from the 13th to the 15th every year.
The word Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit word Samkranti and literally translates to “astrological passage” which means change or transformation. Coinciding with the rise of Aries on the astrological chart which marks the new year on many south and southeast Asian calendars and keeping with Buddhist/Hindu solar calendar.
Although it has evolved and changed over the years the Songkran celebrations still emanate the old traditions. In the morning of the 13th, the celebrations are supposed to start with a visit to local temples to offer food to the Buddhist monks and pour water over the Buddha statues, which is called “making merits”. The pouring is very symbolic as it represents the washing away, or “cleansing”, of bad luck and sins as well as purification of the soul. Because the festival is considered one of unity, friends and family who moved away often return home to partake in the celebrations. As a sign of respect the younger ones will pour water over the palms of their elders.
While Thai New Year is celebrated all over this lovely country, the celebration does vary slightly depending on the region;
In the North they like to ring in the New Year with firecrackers and gun fire as a way to ward off bad luck and, while they do still go to temples to “make merit”, they do it on the 14th rather than the 13th.
In the central part of Thailand, as Songkran approaches, they clean and rid their homes of clutter while they dress in colorful clothing and go to temples to “make merits”, however their “merits making” are different in the sense that they give sand for construction of temples and also release animals such as birds, fish and cows.
In the east part of the country they have activities very similar to the rest of Thailand, differing only in the fact that they “make merit” all through the holiday and afterwards often go home and cook food for the elders of the family.
Here in Phuket the traditions have changed a little bit and most companies on the island offer their employees a paid week off from work so they can honor the old tradition of returning home to their friends and families. For the local residents and those who stay around for Songkran, most still go to the temples to “make merit” and they do so all throughout the holiday, much like people in the east. While the action of pouring water to “cleanse and purify” still exists, it has evolved along the way to help keep the traditions alive within the younger generations: there are still many places around the island where they will gently pour a cup of water over you in keeping with the symbolic ritual but it is more likely that, as you make your way down to one of the major cities to celebrate, you will be sprayed, soaked and out right drenched by the hoards of people lining the streets and shouting water guns, hoses or pouring buckets of water on you.
Arguably the best party spot for Songkran is Bangla Road, just across from Patong Beach, where every year hoards of people gather to join in what can only be describes as a city wide water fight. The entire city comes alive with the locals positioned on the sidewalk in their brightly colored floral print shirts and huge buckets of ice water for filling up water guns. There is music pumping and people laughing while everyone tries to dodge the icy sting of water gun fire coming at you from every which way. Those that actually make it all the way to Bangla are in for a, albeit wet, treat! Everyone on the kilometer long road joins in the water fun whether they are locals, tourists or staff members of the establishments you walk by… EVERYONE is soaking wet and howling with laughter!
So while you may think that your annual western New Year’s celebrations are the best party of the year, we suggest buying yourself a water gun and joining in the Songkran festivities. We guarantee you’ll never think of New Year the same way again!