The Thai new year is called the Songkran Festival and Thailand's new year's day falls on the 13th of April every year. The Songkran festival is probably one of the oldest celebrations in Thailand. Songkran comes from an old Sanskrit word meaning 'Beginning of the Solar Year'.
Songkran is on the summer solstice & is called many names 'The Beginning of the Lunar Year', 'The Start of the Returns of the Rains' and 'Thai New Year'. Sometimes Songkran is called the 'Home Coming Day', as thai people travel long distances to be with their families (not a good time of year to try and book a seat on a plane or bus).
Leading up to the festival Thais clean their houses thoroughly. This is believed to clean away any bad luck from the previous year and make room for the good luck from the new year to come.
On Songkran day Thai people make merit by offering food to the monks. Children show their respect to elders and ask for blessings by pouring water into the hands of their parents and older relatives and then giving them towels and new clothes.
In the afternoon of Songkran day there is a bathing ceremony of Buddha images. The bathing of images is a traditional and formal ritual and is seen as a New Year purification. This customarily marks the beginning of the most popular part of Songkran, when people throw water.
In the streets, people splash and throw water on each other. Songkran usually lasts for 3 days, but in the northern regions of Thailand the festival can last up to 10 days.
The origin of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is lost in history but it's believed to go back to around 1825, when a troupe of travelling actors from China were infected with malaria/plague (we found many different accounts of the origin and malaria was most widely the reason).
For 9 days they used ritualistic cleansing practices from their homeland to fight the disease and cleanse their minds and bodies of evil spirits. After 9 days of not eating meat, not having sex, not drinking alcohol, and treating all beings with absolute kindness they were all cured. The result was that this 9 day cleansing ritual became a widely celebrated yearly event.
During the festival, many of the restaurants put their menus aside and serve only buffet style vegetarian food, some with up to 30 buffet items to choose from. Hundreds of little vegetarian food stalls are set up along the main streets and the smell of veggie curry and coconut sweets fills the air.
The festival begins with the ninth moon of the Chinese calendar. so every year it begins on a different day. The number 9 is considered by the Chinese to be extremely lucky. When a Chinese (or Thai) monk makes merit, he usually invites nine monks to perform the preliminary chants. Also, the ninth hours (am/pm) are very good times for the commencement of important projects.
On the eve of the festival (which is the last day of the Chinese 8th moon) the preliminary rites begin when Kiu Ong Ian (representing the Nine Emperor Gods) is brought down from heaven to preside over the festivities. (The Nine Emperor Gods are gods of the stars that are said to control the fate of living things on earth.
Seven of the gods reside on the seven stars of the Big Dipper and the other two gods reside on nearby stars, which are only visible to the eyes of immortals). Hundreds of Nagas (people who are chosen to become 'spirit mediums' for the spirits when they come down to Earth) and local people meet to call the gods and spirits down from the heavens and escort them into town.
Meanwhile, shops, businesses and homes prepare offering tables on the sidewalks in front of their buildings. Red tableclothes cover the offering tables (the color red is supposed to repel evil spirits), and each table is prepared with tea cups, hot tea, fresh fruit, fresh flowers, candles, bunches of smoking joss sticks (incense sticks), and bowls of candy.
Every table leg is placed on small square peices of red paper. Each peice of red paper has a beautifully laminated gold emblem in the center. The table has to sit on the gold laminated emblem to elevate it from the earth, making the offering table suitable for the gods (if the table were touching the ground it would be meant for mere mortals).
Loi Krathong is traditionally performed on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month, which usually falls in November. Loy Kratong is sometimes known as the festval of light and is probably one of the most romantic and beautiful Thai festivals in Thailand.
Loi means to float and kratong means the lotus shaped vessel. Inside the kratong people put flowers, candles and incense sticks, which are lit before placing them on the water and making a wish. Many people believe that if the kratong remains afloat until the end of the evening their wish will come true.
Couples will be seen all over the country doing this as this is traditionally the best time to wish for a longlasting relationship. The floating of a Krathong is also intended to float away ill fortune as well as to express apologies to Khongkha or Ganga, the River Goddess.
Some believe that the ritual is meant to worship the Buddhas footprint on the bank of the Narmada River, while others say that it is to pay respect to Phra Uppakhut, one of the Lord Buddhas great disciples. The Loi Krathong Festival is celebrated nationwide in Thailand, especially where there are rivers, canals or sources of water, with different or unique characteristics.
There are some uniquely different aspects for loy kratong in certain communities. For example, the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai, during which balloon-like Khom Loi lanterns including the Khom Fai a fire lantern and Khom Khwan a smoke lantern are flown into the sky as a symbol of worship to Phrathat Chulamani in heaven.
Making a Khom Loi will need a lot of artistic skills as well as scientific techniques, just like the ones used in making a balloon. Tracing paper or Sa paper is used to make air bags of various shapes. It is believed that flying a Khom Loi is like flying grief and ill fortune away from ourselves or our home.
In Tak province, the Loi Krathong Sai Festival is celebrated, which reflects the unity of the local people. Groups of people gather at the river banks, each bringing along thousands of Krathong made from coconut shells with dried wicks made from coconut flesh anointed with oil or ash for their inflammable as well as durable quality. There, they sing and dance with merriment.
The span of the Ping River that passes by the provincial city of Tak is not deeper than ones waist, with underwater sand bars curving into different shapes, forcing the current to meander. When the lit Krathongs are floated onto the right current, one after another, they would meander along and make a beautiful and twinkling curving line, or Sai in Thai, amid the darkness of the night.
The famous Loi Krathong and Candle Festival in Sukhothai province features a procession of offerings, including Phanom Mak the betel offering and Phanom Dok Mai the floral offering carried by beautiful girls, as well as banana-leaf floats accompanied by the so-called Nang Nopphamat beauty queens.
The Phanom Mak and Phanom Dok Mai offerings are for the homage paying rite at King Ramkhamhaeng the Greats monument in the heart of the ancient city of Sukhothai. After that, people as well as visitors gather and float the Krathongs together on ponds, known as Traphang, inside the ancient city. The bright candle light from the floated Krathongs and the cool breeze of November together lends a pleasant atmosphere for all participants.
Besides the well-known Loi Krathong Festival, there is another tradition that is based on a similar belief but is celebrated on the full moon night of the eleventh lunar month. Known as the Illuminated Boat Procession, the celebration takes place in the Northeastern provinces of Thailand that is located on the Mekong River.
Illuminated boats of approximately 10 12 metres long are made from banana stalks or bamboo by villagers. The boats contain sweets, the so-called Khao Tom Mat stuffed fried sticky rice and objects to be donated inside, while decorated with flowers, incense sticks, candles, lamps and tinder outside.
At present, the boats are created into various shapes such as important places or mythical creatures, which lend a bright and breathtaking sight when the boats illuminated by thousands of lamps are floated onto the river. This information is courtesy of http://www.loikrathong.net