A Guide to Songkran in 2022
สวัสดีปีใหม่ไทยค่ะ - Sawadee Pe Mai Thai ka - Happy Thai New Year!
Now, you may have heard about Songkran before, one of Thailand’s most famous times of year and the world's biggest water fight! Songkran is a high-spirited festival where Thais and tourists venture to the streets to get completely soaked with buckets of water and water guns, coming together to celebrate the start of the traditional Thai new year!
If you ever get the chance to visit Thailand in April in the coming years, make sure you book yourself in for a Songkran festival in any major city or surrounding towns. It is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in Thai culture and also learn about the religious traditions which are practised at this time.
Unfortunately, Covid 19 is still very active in Thailand, so many official water fights have been cancelled this year to prevent the spread of the virus, but there are many other events organised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand in line with Covid-19 prevention measures, that Thais and tourists can get involved in.
What is Songkran?
Songkran is the Thai New Year’s national holiday which falls on the 13th of April each year, with the celebrations continuing on the 14th and 15th of April. Songkran marks the beginning of a new solar year in the buddhist calendar and is a time of renewal and rebirth by cleansing yourself of past sins. The act of cleansing is symbolised with water and so the big water fights festivals are an adaptation of the religious tradition.
What does the water symbolise?
The significance of the water relates to spiritual purification, physical cleanliness and making a fresh start. A traditional ritual called Song Nam Phra, which means ‘pouring water on monks’, is a ceremony that takes place in a temple or privately in the family’s home.
A special kind of water is prepared to have a fresh flower scent of rose and jasmine and this sacred water is gently poured over the hands or feet of the buddhist monk. If you are unable to visit a monk, pouring water over a Buddha statue gains the same merit and it is important to pour water only on the body and not over the head. Whilst pouring the water, you may wish to ask for good fortune, health or wealth.
Song Nam Phra is followed with the ritual of Rod Nam Dam Hua, which translates to ‘pour water on one’s head’. This ritual is where the younger members of the family will pour water over the hands or feet of their elders to ask for forgiveness of past behaviour and to show respect. Afterwards, the children receive their parent’s blessing. From these rituals of pouring water developed into Thailand’s famous water festival.
What to usually expect at a songkran festival?
Without a doubt, expect to get very VERY wet, for 3 days straight!! No matter what area of Thailand you are in, pretty much anyone is fair game to get splashed with water, so embrace it and give them a good splash back! If you are in a city like Chiang Mai or Bangkok, expect to see some major streets blocked off. This is to make space for the massive water playground for everyone to enjoy and there will be giant water containers so that you can use them to re-fill buckets and water guns.
Along with all the water throwing chaos, you may see a few local people smearing a white powder or paste on the face of others. This white paste is usually brushed on the forehead and cheeks, it is a symbol of being protected from bad luck.
Another Songkran ritual you see locals do is offer and tie Sai Sin (a blessed string). Sai Sin is usually a thin cotton string which has been blessed by monks and is a symbol of good luck. You don’t have to be buddhist to accept sai sin and it is considered disrespectful to turn down the offer.
If someone approaches you with a string held from either end, extend your wrist with your palm facing the sky. They will tie the string together as a bracelet (not too tightly) and say a short blessing. The tradition is to keep the bracelet on to bring good luck and allow it break or fall off on its own.
Things to keep in mind whilst at a Songkran Water Festival
Choose to wear light and fast drying clothes, so that you are not in wet clothes all day. Even though glass bottles are banned at these events, some crowds will still bring them to the party, so be careful of broken glass on the floor, flip flops may not be the best shoe choice! Before you go and buy a water gun, I recommend buying a small ziplock and waterproof bags to keep your money and valuables in to stay dry during the water fight.
Respectively get involved and play safe! Monks, pregnant women and babies are all exempt from being splashed with water, so do not do this. There will be a lot of motorcyclists driving about, please do not splash the driver, the amount of road accidents increases during this time.
Learn how to say ‘Sawadee Pe Mai’ or ‘Sawadee Pe Mai Thai’ which means happy new year or happy Thai new year. To show good manners you can add ‘Krap’ (if male) or ‘Ka’ (if female) to the end of the sentence. Make sure you are using clean water, either from a tap or from the big barrels provided around the city and please keep in mind that you shouldn’t throw water after sundown.
Celebrating Songkran in 2022
Songkran this year will be celebrated without the official big water fights to prevent the spread of Covid-19. All water splashing, powder smearing and foam parties in public places are prohibited this year. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has organised many events to celebrate songkran in line with Covid-19 prevention measures. All event goers will be required to either show proof of vaccinations or proof of a negative Covid-19 test to gain entry into an event. Below are events that are happening in Thailand right now to celebrate Songkran 2022!
In the capital city, Bangkok, there are ten temples that are hosting “Amazing Songkran 2022 Celebrations” between the 9th – 17th of April. Rituals honouring the Thai New Year’s origins and traditions will take place at the temples - Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Wat Rakang, Wat Suthat, Wat Kalayanamit, Wat Prayun, Wat Ratchanatdaram, Wat Mahathat, Wat Saket and Wat Ratchabophit. Another event, “Iconic Songkran Festival 2022” is taking place from April 8 – 17 at IconSiam in Bangkok. The festivities will include Song Nam Phra and Rot Nam Dam and family-focused activities such as kite displays and a fun fair.
“Nam Thip Pi Mai Muang Chiang Mai”will be held at ten locations in the city of Chiang Mai from April 12 – 16. The TAT first reintroduced this age-old ceremony of creating “holy water” from three sacred sources at Wat Buppharam, Doi Inthanon and the Ping River last year. This year, a total of 10,726 bottles of holy water will be distributed at temples Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Wat Pha Lat, the Three Kings Monument, Wat Pan Sao, Wat Buppharam, Wat Lok Moli, Wat Tharathip Chai Pradit and Wat Pa Daet.
The “Songkran Music Heritage Festival 2022” will take place between April 12 – 21 at Wat Phra Ram in Ayutthaya and Songkhla old town with the goal of raising local and international awareness of the historical significance of these two locations. The “Phra Pradaeng Songkran Festival 2022” will be held at the Phra Pradaeng City Hall in Samut Prakan from April 22-24. The festival will be different to the other events around the kingdom as local people will observe traditional Mon ceremonies. The festival will also feature a Miss Songkran parade.
Although you may not be able to visit Thailand during this special time of year, perhaps this is something you want to experience for next year. So open up your calendar and make sure to keep April 2022 free, start planning and get hyped for Songkran!
สวัสดีปีใหม่ไทยค่ะ - Sawadee Pe Mai Thai ka!
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