Thai Festivals, National Celebrations + Public Holidays

Thailand is a nation that loves its holidays and celebration. From Children's Day to the traditional Thai New Year, Songkran Day, every month in Thailand seems to have at least one special holiday. Here's a description of some of the best festivals in Thailand.

New Year's Festivals

Thailand has not one, not two, but three different New Year celebration. On January 1, the Thais celebrate the western New Year. In Thailand, this includes a gift exchange, dawn rituals for an auspicious new year by devout Buddhists, and general afternoon and evening merry-making.

In early February, Thais celebrate the Chinese New Year, or the Lunar New Year. In Thailand, February is the beginning of spring, so sometimes the Chinese New Year is also referred to as the Spring Festival. During the Chinese New Year in Thailand – not unlike other Chinese New Year celebrations throughout the world – firecrackers, dragon dancers, and parades march down the streets. Thai children love this time of year, not just for the dragon dancers, but also for the Ang Pao (red envelopes filled with money).

Two days before Chinese New Year's Day, food markets are filled with people stocking up on food and offerings. On New Year's Eve, shops are closed, and people of Chinese heritage make prayers, offerings to the gods, and to their ancestors. In the morning come the prayers for the Gods of the Land; at noon come the prayers for their ancestors; in the afternoon come prayers for the wandering souls who have no relatives to pray for them. After each prayer, the Chinese faithful burn golden paper, which they hope will become money in their afterlife.

New Year's Day itself includes more prayers, this time asking for help from the Gods of Luck and of Good Fortune. Held early in the morning, some people perform more prayers for their ancestors later on. Besides the parades and firecrackers, New Year's Day is a time for family. Relatives visit one another, exchange oranges, and offer Ang Pao to the children. They try to refrain from being mean to one another for a day, believing this day focused on kindness will bring good luck to their upcoming year.

The traditional Thai New Year, Songkran Day, is celebrated in April, and many tourists decide to enjoy the festival in Khao San Road in Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket, where there is plenty of accommodation right next to beautiful beaches from which they can enjoy the proceedings.

Holidays in May

At the start of the planting season, the king himself participates in the Ploughing Ceremony. Dating back to the Sukhothai Period in Thai history (1238 – 1438 AD), the ceremony is held each year at Sanam Luang. Sanam Luang is a public square in front of Wat Phra Kaew, one of Bangkok's many Buddhist Temples. Used as the ground to coronate kings and queens for generations, it became the site of the Ploughing Ceremony in the nineteenth century, under the reign of King Rama IV. With most Thai people still living and working as farmers, the Ploughing Ceremony is designed to boost morale while providing predictions about the year's crops. A mixture of Buddhist, royal, and folk tradition, the Ploughing Ceremony is a great event to observe if you're interested in Thai culture.

Also in May is the Visakha Bucha, the holiest day of the year for Buddhists. Like Easter and Christmas rolled into one, the Visakha Bucha marks the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. A tamer holiday than most, this auspicious day is celebrated mostly by listening to sermons, and by candlelit circumambulations around Thailand's most important Buddhist Temples.

The Queen's Birthday / Mother's Day

August 12 is both Mother's Day and the Queen's Birthday. A more important day in Thailand than in the west, Mother's Day represents an opportunity for every child and adult in Thailand to honour the women they respect. Even grown men will bow down at their mother's feet, and offer her jewels or other gifts. On the same day comes the Queen's Birthday, a festive day when people decorate their homes, as well as public buildings. The current queen, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, is well-loved by her people. Educated in Thailand and Europe, the queen is known for her dedication to the Thai people. Today, the queen frequently travels to rural areas, looking for ways to help the people in these areas, especially during times of drought or flood. Additionally, a foundation she established decades ago has had a number of successful initiatives that have helped poor, rural Thais improve their standard of living.

These holidays are just a few of most popular and important days in Thailand. If you have an opportunity to visit Thailand during one of these public holidays, you will certainly be treated to a unique cultural experience that you'll remember for years to come.

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