Posted by Nitar Lohaphaisan on 17th November 2013
Happy Loy Krathong! This year, the full moon of the twelfth lunar month falls on November 16th, marking the date for one of the many traditional and picturesque festivals in Thailand. Loy Krathong, or the ‘festival of light’, is a magical day where friends and family gather together to celebrate and honor the Lord Buddha, as well as express gratitude for the Goddess of Water (Phra Mae Khongkha).
“Loy” means ‘to float’ while “krathong” refers to a lotus shaped ‘boat’ made out of banana leaves. This celebration takes place beneath a blanket of dark sky and a beautifully lit full moon, while people release, onto every expanse of water, their krathongs filled with candles, flowers, incense and coins. It is also common for Thais to include in their krathongs small locks of hair and/or nail clippings. It is believed that the krathong carries away one’s bitterness, animosity and defilement in order to start the new year improved, or on a better foot. Loy Krathong Festival also boasts a dazzling fireworks display, as well as beauty pageants, singing, dancing, and the release of floating paper lanterns.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I experienced Loy Krathong at our Thai Buddhist Temple in North Hollywood where the release of synthetic krathongs into plastic kiddy pools, in the middle of the day, was not very exciting. It definitely never met up to the hype my parents had promised. Nevertheless, it was during my first year living in Bangkok that I truly experienced and appreciated the beauty of this festival. The morning of the festival, street vendors sold impressively creative krathongs made from colorful sugar ice-cream cones, vibrant orchids, marigolds, and coconut shells. We were encouraged to buy entirely biodegradable krathongs to prevent polluting the river. On the night of the festival, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, I simply followed my friend’s instructions…minus the hair and nail clippings as I was not prepared nor did I have the proper tools. In any case, I lit my candle and incense, released my penance, and set my krathong down the river. The river was like glowing amber and appeared as an endless stream of floating floral arrangements and candles – each representing a person’s hurt or shame, each drifting slowly towards the horizon. Besides being visually stunning, it was quite peaceful and forgiving. My favorite part of the festival, though, was the carnival like atmosphere of the street food vendors. For the brave and adventurous eaters, you will find fried roaches and arthropods seasoned with chili powder, lemongrass, salt, and pepper. For me, I loved the availability of pop-up sidewalk bars and any food that was grilled. It is never a celebration in Thailand without delicious food!
For centuries, Loy Krathong has been widely celebrated all across Thailand. It is a tradition of great importance and beauty which practices peace and forgiveness. Accordingly, Loy Krathong has become one of the most popular events in Thai culture, as well as one of the most sought after festivals by tourists traveling abroad. If you’ve yet to experience this brilliant event, make sure to add Loy Krathong Festival to your bucket list!