It is well known that Thais love to have fun. Our sanuk (joie de vivre) mentality isn’t reserved just for daily life but extends particularly to our enjoyment of holidays. And, boy, do we have a lot of those in Thailand! This is one of the few countries in the world with more than 20 public holidays per year. We have even embraced the festivities of other cultures with a passion.
Each year most Thais celebrate three New Years: the International New Year (1st January), the Chinese New Year (the day after the first new moon of the lunar calendar, sometime in January or early February), and Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year (13th-15th April). Excessive? Certainly not. We have our reasons.
Since we use the Gregorian calendar, the beginning of the year is a legitimate celebration. Many Sino-Thais across the country shut up shop during the Chinese New Year and many regional and international companies often declare it a holiday too. Songkran used to be based on the old solar calendar and its dates were not fixed, but since the mid-20th century, the government has proclaimed the mid-April holiday dates as we know them today. So if you are not able to keep your New Year’s resolution after 1st January, you now have two more chances to do so!
Since most Thais are Buddhist, they celebrate the four major Buddhist holidays: Makha Bucha Day, Visakha Bucha Day, Asalaha Bucha Day (which fall on the full moon day in March, May, and July respectively), and Khao Pansa (the beginning of Lent, right after Aslaha Bucha Day). These holidays mark the important passages in the life of the Lord Buddha. Visakha Bucha is the most significant because it represents the day on which the Lord Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment, and passed on.
On these days devout Buddhists visit the temple and circumambulate the Ubosot (the Main Hall) to pay homage to the Lord Buddha and his teachings. Buddhist Lent has become the Festival of Hae Thien Pansa (the parade of candles) with gigantic sculptures made from candle wax harking back to a time when electricity was unavailable and monks had to read by candle light.
After the Buddhist Lent, the Thod Ghatin Festival takes place for a month. This is the time to donate new robes to the monks and almost every November the Royal Barge Procession for the Royal Ghatin Ceremony has been a sight to behold. The flotilla of golden barges gleam as they glide along the Chao Phraya River and arrive at Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn). If one misses Thod Ghatin, one can conduct a Thod Paa Bpaa ceremony at any time during the year to donate new robes to monks or benefits to the temple.
We live in a religiously tolerant society here, which is why in the recent past some Thais have chosen to embrace other faiths and adopt their religious holidays. Of course, there are also more prosaic reasons for such fluidity – as a youngster, I attended a Catholic school and later worked for international firms, which meant I got to
enjoy extra days off at Christmas and Easter! Like Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day has become a big deal here for those seeking romance, and it is just as consumer-driven. While Valentine roses, chocolates and candle-lit dinners might be a boon to love, they are most certainly a boost to commercial interests.
The majority of traditional Thai festivals are related to our agrarian roots. The Royal Ploughing Ceremony, Boon Bung Fai (the rainy season rocket festival), and the Hae Nang Maew Festival are used to date the times for planting new rice crops and praying for water. Nowadays most of these festivals are no longer public holidays but they are still celebrated with verve. We revel in the pomp and pageantry of the Royal Ploughing Ceremony and after the predictions for the annual rice crop by the Brahmins and the sacred oxen have been given, farmers rush in to pick up the (blessed and auspicious) rice grains scattered
during the rites to replant on their land.
In addition to the beauty of festivals such as Loy Krathong, we are also adept at having fun based on more ghoulish holidays. Hence the masks and costumes fashioned for the Phee Dta Khone Festival, a shamanistic celebration akin to Halloween.
No matter if it is an adopted festival that falls on a working day or a traditional holiday that allows for time off, you can be certain that we will ensure a good time is had by all.