Sawatdee pi Maï! Happy New Year! Well, almost — it’s Thursday, April 12th this year. In Thailand, this greeting is accompanied by joyful gouts of water — splashed on you, at you, over you. And while the New Year’s festival of Songkran falls in the spring (sometimes, like this year, in the same week as Passover & Easter), it’s no less a celebration of beginning.
Having lived in Thailand during my adolescence, I still remember the soaking we received one Spring Break as we traveled down country from Bangkok to Phuket. The journey involved two LandRovers full of 7 kids, the cook and the housekeeper, my mother and my father’s driver. And sometimes even a birdcage full of birds to release for good luck.
It also meant buckets of water each time we stopped to eat, use our makeshift facilities (a blanket held by four girls so a fifth could go to the bathroom in relative ‘privacy’), or get gas. By the time we completed our 12-hour drive, the LandRovers would be sloshing water in the floorboards, we’d be sloppy wet, as well as exhausted from laughing. And that was before the advent of super soakers!
But there’s a more serious side to Songkran, as well. Like Mahayana Buddhists, Theravadin Buddhists (those in Thailand and most of Southeast Asia) perform the kinds of rituals of belief familiar to Christians, Hindus, Muslims and other people of faith.
Household Buddha images are gently cleansed with water, usually fragranced — sometimes with jasmine. Buddha images from neighbourhood temples are paraded on beautiful flower-laden floats, ‘cleansed’ by the laughing crowds, as they throw water from the streets.Trips to temples, visits to honoured elders — all are part of the original intention of Thai New Year, as are a thorough house cleaning and New Year’s resolutions.
So although it wears a different costume, it’s much like what happened at our house January 1st. And who wouldn’t like to wash away all the mistakes of the past year? Maybe next year I should buy that Super Soaker…