Thailand celebrates Songkran, the Buddhist New Year

Millions of Thais streamed out of major cities to head home last week and celebrate the Buddhist New Year, known as Songkran. They visited families, cleansed Buddha images, paid respect to elders and engaged in virtual water fights online during the three-day festival.

The celebration is one of three New Year holidays marked by Thais, including the global New Year on January 1, and the Chinese New Year several weeks after that. The three-day (April 13-15) Songkran festival is distinctly Southeast Asian in terms of culture.

Water and renewal are the themes of Songkran. Mid-April is the hottest time of the year in the Kingdom, and so revelers love engaging in water fights, using water guns or just hurling buckets at each other in mock battles against each other and the heat.

Water is also a symbol of purification. In the more traditional celebrations, young people pour water over the wrists of elders as a show of devotion and gratitude. Most people make time to visit temples, and nearly everyone pours goblets of water with floating orchids and marigolds over Buddha images in a cleansing ritual, hoping for a fresh start in the new year.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the government discouraged water fights because of public health concerns about spreading infections. Meta, the new virtual reality firm formerly known as Facebook, responded by hosting virtual water fights in the metaverse.

Thais around the world also join in the revelry, although the weather in many countries is still cool. In the U.S., Songkran celebrations take place at Thai temples across many states in diverse forms, including merit-making in the morning, outdoor food markets, and some even added water fights to top the fun.

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