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Exchanging Real Guns for Water Guns: Thailand Celebrates the New Year

April 12, 2010

Miss Songkran 2009 photo: Richard Barrow for

With the recent weekend’s peaceful Red Shirt protests turned violent, the typically gentle Thai could use an excuse to cool off.  Luckily,  the Songkran Festival (their traditional New Year), which officially begins today, is just what the doctor ordered.

Though the Thai have followed the Western calendar since 1940, the Songkran Festival remains an important celebratory holiday. Songkran marks the end of the dry season, and the hottest time of the year in Thailand. While the festival was traditionally a time to pay respect to one’s elders and visit the temple, the celebration is now known best as an occasion for the throwing of water.

The tradition of water-throwing has its roots in the fact that the New Year was believed to be a time for cleansing. Many Thai would cleanse Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries by gently pouring water mixed with a Thai fragrance over them. It was believed that this would bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year. The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas.  Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat (April temperatures can rise to over 100°F or 40°C on some days).

Songkran celebrations

Today, Songkran is indeed one country-wide water fight, in which Thais roam the streets with containers of water or water guns, or post themselves at the side of roads with a garden hose and drench each other and passersby.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva reaffirmed on Monday the commitment that the government is making to restoring order on the streets of Bangkok for the festival.

Here’s hoping they’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

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