In Thailand the month of April is often considered to be the most unpleasant month of the year because as the impending summer heat mounts, the humidity levels rise, and the air becomes heavy with moisture.
April is also the month in which the Thai celebrate the traditional Thai New Year. It is based upon the Buddhist calendar and the date of the Buddha’s birth. In Thailand, the official calendar year is 2560, though 2017 is also used.
During the New Year observance known as “Songkran,” the Thai set aside three days to officially ring in the new year though the festival usually stretches out to a week. The actual new year date is tied to the lunar calendar, but for the past century, it has been fixed to April 13-15. Throughout the country, most businesses, schools, and government offices are closed. People travel to their home towns and villages for large family gatherings (similar to our Thanksgiving traditions) and religious observances.
Many people visit the Buddhist temples during this time to make merit and seek forgiveness for their past sins. Water is poured over the Buddha statues as an act of purification. Food and offerings are given to the monks. In the home, everything is cleaned and washed. We might call it a thorough Spring cleaning. Children pour water on the hands and over the shoulders of their elders as a sign of respect and a wish for good luck in the coming year.
Over time, the festival evolved into what has become a country wide water festival. The hot, humid April days have no doubt contributed to its development. People young and old gather on the streets with hoses, water blasters, buckets, and pails of water to douse anyone and everyone that passes by. Those riding on motor scooters are often soaked to the bone before they arrive at their destination. In the cities, pickup trucks patrol the streets filled with party revelers and garbage pails of water. Anyone within reach as they pass by is likely to be doused with water.
It’s all done in fun and is an accepted (and expected) part of Songkran. For many, it is a time to stay off the streets, not just to keep dry, but to avoid the long traffic jams that inevitably accompany the water festival.
It is also a time to reflect upon the deep seated history and beginnings of the festival. Westerners and those who are not of the Buddhist faith may find it to be a fun-filled holiday, but underscoring the festivities are the sad tenants of work righteousness and merit-making that are carried out in an effort to appease the conscience, cover one’s sins, and seek good luck for the future. For Christians, joy is found in the fact that Jesus has covered us with his merit and righteousness, granting us full and complete forgiveness of sins. Luck does not play a part in our lives for we walk hand in hand with our Savior who guides us each step of the way on life’s path.
Pray for our work among the Thai people as we reach out with the gospel of Christ to bring hope to those whose lives are guided by superstition and the teachings of work righteousness.
By: Missionary Ken Pasch, Thailand
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