Thai children spray water at each other during Songkran.
Bring out the water hoses, and don’t be afraid to get a little wet! Songkran, a festival marking the Thai New Year, is all about making a fresh start with a splash.
WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE
The festival in Thailand kicks off on April 13 and usually lasts three days, though festivities can start early or end later in some cities. The holiday’s main focus is about moving forward—no wonder the word Songkran comes from a phrase in the Sanskrit language that means “passage of the sun.”
Water plays a major role in the festival. Symbolically it washes away the previous year so people can get ready for the next one. But many other Songkran traditions use water as well.
A girl pours water on an elder's hands.
Two people pour water on a Buddha statue.
People prepare for the new year by cleaning houses, schools, offices, and other public spaces. They’re joined by family members who have moved away and returned for the holiday to spend time with loved ones.
Many families wake up early during Songkran and visit Buddhist temples, where they bring offerings such as food and listen to monks as they preach. (Buddhism is a religion practiced mostly in eastern and central Asia.) Visitors sprinkle clean or scented water over statues of Buddha—the person believed to have started Buddhism—to represent purification and good fortune. Younger people also pour water on the hands of elderly relatives and friends to show their respect and ask for blessings in the coming year.
Some temple visitors bring sand, which is meant to replenish the sand that’s been carried away on shoes throughout the year. They leave the sand in stupas (or mounds) on the ground, which are then decorated with colorful flags and flowers.
Honoring family traditions and religious practices are important parts of Songkran, but so is having some fun. Outside, Songkran is celebrated with street parties featuring loud music and a giant friendly water fight.
People collect water in buckets, squirt guns, and anything else they can find, then hit the streets to playfully splash each other. In some places, elephants even get in on the action, squirting water from their trunks on people passing by. It’s a good thing April is one of the hottest months of the year in Thailand!
Text by Rose Davidson, National Geographic Staff
Photo credits (top to bottom): opten22photo, Shutterstock; Pratchaya, Getty Images; Taylor Weidman, Getty Images