If the New Year 2021 hasn’t lived up to your expectations so far, Songkran – the traditional Thai New Year in April – gives you a chance for a do over.
To help usher in the Thai New Year 2021, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Canada, invited travel advisors and media to a virtual celebration.
Via live video feeds, virtual guests were transported to Thailand, first to a temple, then an elephant rescue and sanctuary, as well as a celebrity chef’s kitchen, where key parts of holiday commemorations were enacted in a one-hour event, and you can watch it here:
In reality, Songkran is a three-day ritual, from the 13th to the 15th of April. The word is Sanskrit, meaning ‘astrological passage’, and it coincides with the rising of Aries and the New Year of the Hindu and Buddhist calendars. The final day, April 15th, is considered ‘New Year’s Day’ itself.
Tourists and many locals may associate the holiday with water ‘fights’ in the streets that sometimes make the headlines of travel sections of publications around the world as they get out of hand.
But as attendees of the Thailand Tourism Authority’s virtual Songkran celebration learned, water fights are thought of as an extreme – perhaps even disrespectful – way of commemorating.
Our virtual Songkran was the kinder, gentler version. We virtually visited ‘live’ a Thai temple, where celebrants carrying banners observed the rituals of making offerings to their elders, to the Buddhist monks at the temples, and pouring water over a Buddha statue. The water rituals symbolize washing sins and bad luck away, and purifying the celebrant for the new year.
Then it was off to the Patara Elephant Conservation sanctuary. Elephants are the national symbol of Thailand, and are considered sacred for their role in Buddhism – and they, too, have a connection to the water, often pictured bathing in rivers and spraying water. Maybe that’s where current-day water fight Songkran celebrants got their idea for their Super Soaker (literally!) version of water ritual!
The manager of the sanctuary wished us Happy Songkran, and observed Songkran water purifying rituals, but it was an adorable baby elephant who stole the show, shyly weaving around the other elephants’ legs in the background of the shot, occasionally shyly peaking out into the camera.
The final segment of the virtual event was a visit to the kitchen of American Top Chef alumnus, Asian cuisine chef Arnold Myint, where he prepared a Thai dish known and loved in Thai restaurants around the world, Thai Papaya Salad.
Songkran was the traditional New Year in Thailand, but now the country officially marks New Year on the first of January, and Songkran is a beloved national holiday.