Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year also known as locally as ปี๋ใหม่เมือง (bpii mai mueang). It is the only traditional holiday set according to the solar rather than the lunar calendar. It is always April 13, and recently also commemorated on April 14 and 15. Many institutions and some businesses extent the time into a full week of vacation.
For reflections on the meaning of this New Year’s festival (the last of at least 4 commemorated annually in Thailand) see previous blog-essays:
This year I would like to reflect on how Christians handle this. It is illustrative, I think, of how Christians handle several other cultural traditions in Thailand.
Since Songkran is a combination of cultural, religious and social traditions it is not surprising that Christians have little to do with the religious observances. Trips to the temple, washing Buddha images, paying attention to spirits of ancestors which are the point of most religious aspects of Songkran are simply ignored. There are no Christianized church services (that I know of) about Songkran. Songkran often overlaps with Easter, but even when it does not, as is the case this year, churches will not devote a part of their Sunday services to remembering Songkran. It should be remembered in passing, that this is not how Christians handle some other traditions.
But Songkran is too big to ignore entirely. It is a major holiday. At the heart of Songkran is respect for elders. Young adults are expected to demonstrate their appreciation for elders of their parents’ generation and older. Here in the north young people come to homes of their oldest relatives and present them gifts, for which, in return, they are given blessings. Scented water is used and strings tied around wrists of the young people express wishes for long life and prosperity. Slowly, over the past fifty years, the Christian taboo on this has been relaxed. In fact, some churches have blessing ceremonies around this time of year at the end of church services. Some even dare to do it during the Songkran weekend. If a village or organization has a blessing ceremony, Christians now tend to join. More conservative churches have declared these things forbidden since they smack of the occult, and they are done by Buddhists.
This, in a nutshell, is how Christians in Thailand handle most cultural traditions. Starting a hundred and fifty or more years ago with aversion and loathing of the tradition, engendered by popular or suspected connections with supernaturalism and the occult, Christians have cautiously moved to accept aspects of the tradition and to shorten the gap between Christian sub-culture and the culture of the world around them.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.