In Thailand, years are based on the Buddhist era (B.E.), which started 543 years earlier than the Christian era. Thus the year 2010 A.D. is recognised as 2553 B.E.
In 1940, Thailand moved its New Year’s Day from 13th April to 1st January. The old New Year is most definitely still a holiday (Songkran), and certainly not to be missed (assuming you don’t mind getting a little bit wet).
Most Buddhists festivals and holidays follow the lunar calendar so their actual dates vary from year to year with regards to the Gregorian calendar. They also vary from country to country based on the Buddhist tradition of the country. Thailand follows the tradition of Theravada Buddhism.
Loy Kratong , or ‘festival of light’ is celebrated on the night of the full moon of the twelfth lunar month (usually November). It is one of the two most widely recognised festivals in Thailand and is probably the most beautiful, picturesque and enchanting of all Thai celebrations.
‘Loy’ literally means ‘to float’, while ‘kratong’ refers to a small lotus-shaped floral receptacle which can float on the water. The kratong, which was traditionally made of banana leaves, (although more creative materials are also used nowadays), contains flowers, candles and incense. According to legend, the festival originated when a young princess floated a small boat laden with candles and incense downstream to take away bad luck.
As the full moon rises, Thais will kneel at the water’s edge, with floral kratong in hand, add a few small coins and several strands of hair, plucked from the head at the time, light the candles and incense, say a silent prayer, and then very carefully launch their kratong into rivers, canals, ponds, or the sea to wash away sins and to bless love affairs.
They will watch very intently as the float drifts slowly and silently downstream, hoping that the candle will not go out. It’s flame is said to signify longevity, fulfillment of wishes and release from sins. The celebration is also considered a romantic night, as couples who make a wish together on Loy Kratong are thought to stay with each other for ever in the future.
Thai women dress in beautiful traditional Thai dresses for Loy Kratong.
Also, as part of the celebration, nearby temples will release numerous ‘khom loy’ (floating lanterns) into the moonlit sky, hoping that misfortune will fly away with them.
Kratongs are readily available from vendors, and everyone is extremely welcome to join in and celebrate this unique occasion. It presents a chance to make sincere wishes and look to the future while you watch, in silence, as your candlelit floral offering drifts peacefully and gracefully into the distance in the gentle currents.
National Festivals – Songkran
Songkran is one of the oldest traditions in Thailand, and marks the “official” Thai New Year, even though it falls in the fifth month of the Thai lunar calander. There are historical, climatic and cultural reasons as to why it does not take place on the first Thai lunar month. Songkran has its origins in ancient astrology and the position of the sun. It is held annually on 13th April, but can last for upto three days in some parts of the country.
During this auspicious celebration Thais traditionally return home for family reunions, and visit temples, sprinkling water on Buddha images in reverence. Meeting friends and sprinkling water on each others’ shoulders and hands is an act of wishing good luck.
Although the tradition of gentle sprinkling in temples and homes is still practiced, Songkran has become an exuberant festival with revellers throwing water at anyone and everyone in the streets. So join in this extremely good natured fun, and cool off from the heat, but don’t forget to leave cameras and all non-waterproof valuables in your room, because you are likely to get very wet.
Makha Bucha Day
This is a very important Buddhist lunar festival, celebrated nation-wide, and is based on the historic gathering of the Lord Buddha’s disciples. It takes place during the full moon of the third lunar month (typically mid to late February) and devotees will join candle-lit processions around temples.
Note that Thais use a different lunar calendar to the Chinese. The first month of the Thai lunar year takes place usually in December while the Chinese lunar new year generally occurs in February. Both systems use a solar calendar for solstice-oriented festivals but make adjustments by adding a lunar month once every three solar years. As previously stated under our Songkran section, the “official” Thai New Year is actually celebrated at Songkran (during the fifth Thai lunar month).
His Majesty the King’s Birthday (Wan Chalerm) 5th December
The love and respect felt by Thai people for their King, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX), who ascended the throne on 9 June 1946 and is the world’s longest reigning monarch, is on display throughout the country especially on this particular day, the 5th December.
The occasion is marked by an outpouring of love and reverence by Thai people throughout the kingdom and around the world. His Majesty the King has a special place in the hearts of the Thai people through his devotion to the welfare and development of his people, and a keen understanding and awareness of political and social issues.
Buildings and homes all over the country are elaborately adorned with flags, and portraits of His Majesty.
Around the Grand Palace and Ratchadamnoen Avenue areas of Bangkok, thousands of vividly coloured marigolds decorate the streets.
People assemble on the streets with lit candles to honour their monarch.
The most spectacular event is perhaps the review of massed Royal Guards by their Majesties the King and Queen at the Royal Plaza in Bangkok.