Loy Kratong is always held on the night of the full moon of the 12th lunar month. This year that is November 6. It is the most popular Thai holiday of the year. Nearly every able-bodied person takes part in Loy Kratong somehow.
A short list of various Loy Kratong activities includes:
1. Making and floating a kratong [see the picture above]
2. Adorning the front of one’s house with candles or lanterns
3. Setting off fire crackers and fireworks
4. Attending a community fair or parade
5. Merit making at the temple
The basic meaning of Loy Kratong is a bit obscure. In general it is understood to be a festival to pay homage to rivers and waterways as a source of life. It is an ecological observance. But there is a layer of veneration involved in making an offering to the “mother of water” (the literal meaning of the Thai word for “river”). The traditional offering is home-made if possible, and is a floating tribute with a coin, incense and always a candle. These are set adrift by families with a prayer of thanks for the gifts of prosperity the waters of nature bring and a prayer of forgiveness for pollution and disrespect one may have had for the river in the past.
As is the case with other festivals in other lands, patriotic and religious notions are attached to Loy Kratong. Officialdom attributes the origins of Loy Kratong to King Ramkamhaeng whom they also credit with inventing Thai writing. It is said that the first lovely kratongs were floated (“loy”=float) in Sukhothai 700 years ago by the lovely queen and the idea simply caught on. The religious aspects involve merit making to atone for past sins, and they have the convenience of the fact that Loy Kragong always falls on the day of the full moon, which is a Buddhist “Sabbath”.
Since Loy Kratong observances are centered on waterways, boat races may also be held. Sometimes there are river parades. In Chiang Mai large kratong floats are loaded on trucks and move through town before being launched on the Ping River. Fireworks are indispensable aspects of the colorful festivities. Here in the North people also launch tissue paper hot air balloons by the thousands. They include a coil of waxed string suspended underneath that provides the heat to make them rise and gives them an orange glow as they float away on upper wind currents. Hopefully they do not descend until the fire burns out and then they come down harmlessly as they cool.
Above all, Loy Kratong is a family time. It is a night to have fun, to instill community spirit, to do things together, and to appreciate nature.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.