Festival: Songkran Festival

Of all the feasts and festivals in Thailand, which are many, the Songkran Festival is the most striking, for it is widely observed not only in this country but also in Burma, Cambodia and the Lao State.

Songkran is a Sanskrit word in Thai form which means the entry of the sun into any sign of the Zodiac. But the Songkran in this particular instance is when the sun enters the sign of Aries or the Ram. Its full name is Maha Songkran or Major Songkran to distinguish it from the other ones. But the people call it simply the Songkran for it is the only one they know and in which they take interest. It is their traditional New Year when they can enjoy their holidays to the full with no economic hindrance. Songkran is a fixable feast on the solar calender. It begins on the 13th April and ends on the 15th April, but occasionally in certain years on the 16th April. The Songkran is in fact the celebration of the vernal equinox similar to those of the Indian Holi Festival, the Chinese Ching Ming, and the Christian Festival of Easter. The beginning of spring when the sun crosses the equator is now on the 21st of March which is due to the precession of the equinox. The Songkran Festival is in a certain sense like April Fool's Day, when the maids of the village play pranks on any gallant who happens to pass by their way. He will be caught and bound by the united strength of the maids and they will daub him with blacking.

Songkran is the Thai traditional New Year and an occasion for family reunion. At this time, people from the rural areas who are working in the city usually return home to celebrate the festival. Thus, when the time comes, Bangkok temporarily turns into a deserted city.

The festival falls on April 13 and the annual celebration is held throughout the kingdom. In fact, "Songkran" is a Thai word which means "move" or "change place" as it is the day when the sun changes its position in the zodiac. It is also known as the "Water Festival" as people believe that water will wash away bad luck.

This Thai traditional New Year begins with early morning merit-making offering food to Buddhist monks and releasing caged birds to fly freely into the sky. During this auspicious occasion, any animals kept will be set free. Paying homage to one's ancestors is an important part of the day.

People will pay their respects to the elders by pouring scented water over the palms of their hands. The elders in return wish the youngsters good luck and prosperity.
In the afternoon, after performing a bathing rite for Buddha images and the monks, the celebrants both young and old, joyfully splash water on each other. The most-talked about celebration takes place in the northern province of Chiang Mai where Songkran is celebrated from April 13 to 15. During this period, people from all parts of the country flock there to enjoy the water festival, to watch the Miss Songkran Contest and the beautiful parades. In Bangkok, the Buddha image "Buddhasihing" is brought out from the National Museum for people to sprinkle lustral water at Sanam Luang opposite the Grand Palace.

Festival: New Year's Day

Thailand is well-known for her festivals which take place all the year round. Most of these festivals are influenced by Buddhist and Brahminical religions, however, with the passage of time a number of them have been adopted in deference to the international practice.

Actually, the official New Year's Day of Thailand has undergone several changes. Once it used to fall at the end of November. Later, during the reign of King Rama V(1868-1910) it was moved to a date round about April and then New Year's Day was changed to April the first. The universal practice of celebrating the new year on January 1 was adopted in 1941 in deference to the western calendar and this is one of a number of changes aimed at modernising the country.

Though January 1 is regarded as official New Year, the majority of Thais still regard the middle of April (Songkran) as their new year's day, and on this auspicious occasion a week-long celebration is held throughout the kingdom. Most of activities on Songkran Day involve water throwing, building sand pagodas and pouring lustral water on the aged as a means of blessing.

To be frank, a celebration on January 1 is not so popular as that of Songkran. Normally, before the upcoming January 1, people will exchange greeting cards and gifts. Since on this auspicious occasion, a few grand celebrations are held in the kingdom, people take this opportunity to travel upcountry to visit their relatives or spend holidays at a tourist attraction site, while those stay at home will prepare food and other necessary items to make merit on the early morning of January 1 and then take part in various charitable activities held in various places.

At the same time, several companies take this opportunity to give a bonus and announce promotions to their employees who later cash money to buy gifts for relatives and friends before heading to their hometown for a long vacation.

Obviously, in Thailand people celebrate New Year three times a year, namely ; the Thai traditional New Year or Songkran, January 1 and the Chinese New Year. Out of these, Songkran is the most joyous occasion which draw people from all walks of life to take part in a week-long celebration.

Meanwhile, the Chinese New Year is important especially for Thai organisations will close their business for several days so that the employers and their employees will be able to celebrate the auspicious occasion with their relatives at home or spend a long holiday in a place they like.