I’ve always found the idea of holidays in other countries as vacation activities a little odd. Obviously it makes sense as a prime opportunity to experience another culture and its heritage, a reason a lot of people travel, but more often than not, the customs and traditions become nothing more than neglected backdrops in our selfies and lazy hashtags in our quest for more followers.
This is on prime display in the traveler haven of Southeast Asia. When it comes to popularity among foreigners, Loy Krathong is second only to Thailand’s waterfight holiday of Songkran. If you’ve ever seen a Thai river packed with thousands of floating, multicolored flower arrangements, or a night sky lit as bright as day with paper lanterns, here is a brief introduction to what it all meant.
The lovely holiday of Loy Krathong falls on the full moon of the 12th lunar month. Literally translating to “float basket,” this Buddhist holiday centers around the idea of releasing one’s negative feelings, actions and transgressions. Some of the more devout point out that it’s a celebration of the Goddess of Water, but most consider it a general Buddhist celebration for “starting fresh.”
Craft Time in Class
Unlike some of Thailand’s other holidays, this one imposes very little on daily life and doesn’t start until after the moon has risen. Unless of course, you’re a cultural ambassador or a wealthy Thai, in which case you will spend your day designing and building your basket. I was taking language classes at the time and my school insisted that we made our own krathongs (baskets) in class as part of our cultural education.
I swear Thai people are built with a sixth sense for art and I was yet again embarrassed by my inability to make anything half as appealing as my teacher’s krathong. She endlessly lamented the ugliness of her own multi-tiered beauty while telling me that mine was, “very good!” through clenched teeth.
The floating artifices are made from a variety of banana leaves and colorful flowers attached to a section of banana tree trunk about six inches in diameter. Finally, three (it’s always three in Buddhism) sticks of incense are planted in the middle of the decoration, alongside a single candle. Older, more traditional celebrations involve adding a physical piece of yourself to further the symbolism of letting go of your own negativity. This was/is usually fingernails or hair. I opted to skip that part.
Giving My Sins a Not-So-Clean Goodbye
My class was in the early evening, so I headed straight from school to the nearby canal. Although usually a popular means of transportation, the boats stopped running early so the krathongs could be released without the surging swells of garbage water that usually accompany the water taxis. All along the canal were bands playing music, crowds of families, and vendors selling elaborate and handmade floats that made mine look like I’d assembled it in an unlit closet. I headed to the nearest pier for a smooth launch of my “basket.”
On my walk to the pier, I felt what I thought was a large insect hitting me on the cheek. Before I could raise a hand to swat it away, the skies opened up and informed me of what had actually happened: Monsoon. Like I’ve seen a hundred times before, this commonplace occurrence didn’t result in even the slightest hesitation of the locals.
Bands packed up their instruments and moved the performance beneath bridges and awnings, vendors relocated their tables underneath trees and jury-rigged shelters, and Loy Krathong continued without hesitation.