Happy New Year – Thai style

SS1 Songkran, or Thai New Year, starts today. From the 13th to 15th of April, there will scarcely be a dry spot or person in the entire kingdom.
Originally, I was told by various Thai people, Songkran was celebrated by pouring water over the elders’ hands, a gesture meant to convey paying respects. Also, people would gently splash water on their family, neighbors and friends. This was, and still is, a good time to make merit at a temple, either through donations or simply by praying for one’s ancestors. These days, however, things have gone full on crazy.

While I enjoy a holiday just as much as the next person, it’s not fun to walk down the street just to be drenched head to toe in ice water, some of it mixed with baby powder. I have been splashed while in a bus that had open widows, on the street, and once a guy armed with a water gun made a grab for the taxi I was in. Luckily the taxi driver locked the doors and I was safe but for a moment I saw myself forced to take an unwanted shower.

I get it, it’s the hottest month of the year, the water symbolizes washing away the old year, bringing good luck and leaving you clean for the upcoming one. For most people it’s fun and fun is good but with the risk of sounding like the Grinch, why should I be included? Why can’t people just splash others who look like they want to join in this kind of fun?
Last year I was on Koh Chang, an island on the eastern side of Thailand. Husband and I had rented a motorcycle and we were driving on the winding road, extremely steep in parts, much like a roller coaster. It was a great trip, and so far we had managed to elude the rain showers that broke every now and then. Until, in the afternoon, on our way back, we saw crowds waiting on both sides of the road and I knew then we had made the wrong assumption that we were going to get away dry. We didn’t. They were very thorough, and as other motorists slowed down to avoid running over people, we were forced to do the same and got a thorough washing down. Not even my phone and camera inside the backpack I was carrying between me and my husband got away. Ice water, powder, the whole package were poured down on us from buckets, sprayed from water guns and full on drenched from several water hoses. There was no way but to bear it and drive away as soon as we could on the only road. Nobody was splashing water on the beach.

The area we live in celebrates Songkran a week later, so there’s the added joy of having to go through this again. Last year when we ventured out by car, the only vehicle to use if you want to stay dry, we spent more than two hours driving at a snail’s pace through cars, motorcycles and pedestrians in various stages of undress walking the streets in various stages of sobriety. They were armed to the teeth with water containers, and all of them were drenched and painted with white powder.
This year I’m staying home. I have some great books to read, movies to watch, and enough food for a few days. There are enough things to occupy my time with while the city is waging its water war. Happy Thai New Year or Sawadee Pee Mai!

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18 Responses to Happy New Year – Thai style

  1. Caroline says:

    I was thinking “Oh no – that wouldn’t be for me” and was glad to read you don’t like being drenched either. If one could watch from afar, I guess it would be fun. 🙂
    It’s interesting how the ritual changed over the years. I don’t get why they add baby powder?

    • Delia says:

      It is fun to watch, but that is all. They use baby powder on their faces to keep dry. Some use a bit too much and rather look like ghosts. Obviously they don’t use it like that during Songkran. No amount of baby powder can keep one dry.

  2. Bellezza says:

    How fun to have the New Year in the warmth! I’m so accustomed to New Year equals snow (living outside of Chicago). But for me, the New Year is when school starts. Somehow, being a teacher for thirty years (and a student for all the time before that) a new year begins with a new school year.

    So glad that you’re reading Little, Big with us! xoxo

    • Delia says:

      Hi Bellezza,
      I’m a big fan of the warm weather so that’s nice. I can see why you’d equate a new year with school starting.
      I’m excited about reading Little, Big with you as well. About time, I’d say, or it would have taken me who knows how many years to get to it.

  3. Athira says:

    That sounds like so much fun! Though, it is not fun if you are heading somewhere purposely, dressed in your best, only to get drenched. There is a slightly similar Indian festival – Holi – where rather than water, it’s colors – so various colored powders or colored water in water guns, etc. In India, one could not escape getting some color on, whether you wanted to participate or not. Here in the US, we have Holi parties in designated areas, where people just go nuts coloring everyone. It’s fun but you have to want to participate, and I usually stay away from it. 😀

    • Delia says:

      Hi Athira,
      I would love to see Holi, just to take pictures. It must be beautiful. It’s the mayhem I don’t like, here they don’t stop at splashing, it’s almost like punishment by water. And keeping this to a designated area sounds good, if you want to play, you go there, if not, you stay away. 🙂

  4. Brian Joseph says:

    Happy New Year Delia.

    Sorry that you have been the subject of these overenthusiastic water throwers. That does sound annoying and disruptive.

    Staying home for holidays can be a lot of fun.

  5. Deb Atwood says:

    This looks like an amazing spectacle, but I can see how frustrating (even upsetting) this could be for many people. I sympathize with the loss of your camera and cell phone. I would be like you and stay home (aside from maybe an hour to walk around in some old clothes and see the sights). After that I’d be done.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Deb,
      I was curious too in the first few years. After I’ve seen what it actually is I lost interest. The phone and camera were fine, it just took a few days to get back to normal. I think you’re more adventurous than I am. 🙂

  6. Priya says:

    Like Athira said, your celebration sounds a lot like Holi. In part of India, we play with coloured water. Like there, it’s hard to navigate the streets on Holi-day without getting utterly drenched so it’s unfortunate if you have any work on the day!
    Funnily, the name reminds me of another Indian festival, Sankrant. We pronounce it like ‘sonk-rahnt.’ Years and years ago, after visiting Thailand, I’d done a geography project on it and mentioned the similarities between Hindi and Thai. I wonder if there is some ancient linguistic connection here as well!
    Happy New Year 🙂

    • Delia says:

      Hi Priya,
      I wouldn’t be surprised if they stem from the same tradition. The name certainly sounds similar. The languages both have Sanskrit roots so there’s that. Strangely enough, my mother told me of a local tradition in the western part of Romania, of people spraying each other with perfume. Not sure if they still follow it. Small world indeed.

      • Priya says:

        You are right, they must share common Sanskrit roots! I did a little Google-searching after I read this post, and turns out, in some places in India, Sankrant is celebrated around the same time, in the middle of April…
        Spraying each other with perfume sounds like such a nice tradition! It really is a small world. 🙂

  7. I am glad you chose to stay home, Delia. 🙂 If I were in Thailand, perhaps I would have been grumpy too, like my dogs, who detest being showered. 🙂

    During Holi, I ensure to stay indoors. The revellers splash colours on everybody, including the stray dogs. While it’s fun, I pity the helpless animals on the streets. I wish there was a better way to celebrate with colours and water.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Deepika,
      It did not occur to me that the poor dogs dogs may be victims in this colorful festivity. It’s not like they can go home and take a shower.
      Like I said, I have nothing against traditions of this kind (and traditions in general) as long as they are restricted to certain places. I wish I could see Holi though, it sounds much more fun than splashing with plain water.

  8. TB Markinson says:

    Hmmm…not sure how I would like it. As a visitor it would probably be fun, but year after year, I think it would get old. But I do see the fun for others 🙂

    • Delia says:

      Hi TB,
      Many tourists come to Thailand for this festival. I can see the fun in that once (in a lifetime), but after that it does get old.

  9. Vishy says:

    I am late in wishing – Sawadee Pee Mai to you too, Delia 🙂 It was interesting to know about the water splashing festivities in Thailand. We had a tradition like that in our college – during a couple of days during the year, students used to splash water on each other. But this used to happen only in the hostels. If we carried things that could get wet – like books or calculators or a mobile phone, we could potentially escape from getting drenched by showing them, but the really ruthless of the students would immediately pounce on the innocent person and drench him / her especially if he / she carried any of these things. I agree with you that if one wants to participate it is fun, but if one doesn’t want to, it is annoying. When I look back on those college times, I feel nostalgic, but it was annoying at that time.

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