Happy New Year! Chiang Mai's Songkran Festival—9 years and counting.
After three days of celebrating the new year in modern Songkran style, which is three days of non-stop smiles and laughter (and a huge water fight), I began the less exhilarating tasks of bringing in the new year: scrubbing the house and cleaning out everyone's closet. Which considering the current heat here in Thailand, is quite a bit of work. But feel-good work, nonetheless.
A bit of background on this Thai New Year tradition.....Songkran, a sanskrit word meaning ascending or moving on, was traditionally celebrated on the lunar calendar when the moon, sun and other planets pass into the zodiac sign of Aries.
The ancient Brahmins of India considered this to be the start of a new astrological year. The dates have since been fixed to April 13-15 and festivities of renewal are celebrated all over South and Southeast Asia.
Most of what foreigners see of Songkran is a giant city-wide water fight in extreme summer heat. However this “sprinkling” of water is steeped in religious tradition. Buddha images are bathed in temples at the onset of Songkran. The water used to bathe the Buddha (now sacred) is then sprinkled on family members as a blessing of respect representing renewal and good luck.
This background, in my opinion, is why the Songkran festival continues to work here. Culture. Culture is why it works. Nine years ago at my first Songkran I stood aghast, toddlers in tow, completely baffled that giant crowds, loud music, extreme heat, very wet people and beer not only could be, but was a family celebration.
Where else does an entire city come out and play with strangers?
Nine years later, my kids don't want me hanging around too much (except when they need money for french fries and pizza). So I took the opportunity to hang back a bit and observe the differences in culture to figure out why this can work here. What are the Thais doing differently?
They play differently. You can see it just in the way they hold their water guns. Farangs (foreigners) hold their water guns ready for attack. Thais barely have their finger on the trigger. No rush. No need to “nail” the next guy.
This is of course a generalization, but if you stand back and take the time to look, you can see the difference. Which really makes one think. About its culture. And how much that culture influences ones behavior. Unwittingly.
So please do come to Thailand and experience the spirit of Songkran. Try playing the Thai way....gently & respectfully.
Pay attention. Don't shoot driver's in the face. They're driving. And kids are playing. Keep your shirts on. This beautiful festival couldn't happen in your country. Respect that it can here. Here, in the Land of Smiles. Happy New Year!