Break out your lighters, the Thai Lantern Festival begins today! This two-day festival celebrating positivity and prosperity for the new year is tied to the lunar calendar, meaning it shifts each year on the western calendar.
How Did the Thai Lantern Festival Start?
There are several legends about how this festival began and while the precise origin of the festival has not been pinned down, it has been celebrated since the 13th century. The Thai lantern festival was adapted from its indigenous commemoration called Diwali in India to show respect to Buddha in Thailand.
The festival is a once-a-year national celebration that marks the twelfth full moon of the Thai lunar calendar, and typically occurs after the main rice season has ended.
The original purpose of the festival was to give thanks for the year's plentiful water flow that was provided by the river gods as well as apologies for polluting the waterways. Nowadays, it is a way to get rid of negativity accumulated during the previous year and welcome good prosperity in the coming year.
When Is Loy Krathong?
Most of the lantern festivals take place in Northern Thailand and have two main celebrations, Yi Peng and Loy Krathong, which overlap. The biggest difference between the two festivals is the type of lanterns used. Yi Peng features floating sky lanterns and Loy Krathong, ornate floating vessels.
The festival dates are calculated based on the Thai lunar calendar. Lunar years may add a day to the seventh month or repeat the eighth month entirely in Thai lunar years. Therefore, the day is not a fixed date and will change every year. On western calendars, the festival is celebrated in November this year.
What Is a Krathong?
A krathong is a vessel that was traditionally offered to Buddha and the water gods. Together the words Loy Krathong mean "floating basket/vessel." They are traditionally constructed from sliced banana trunks with long strips of banana leaves wrapped around the trunk as well as rectangular shaped pieces of banana leaves that are folded in the shape of lotus petals or other beautifully crafted shapes and pinned to the base with wood pins or toothpicks.
Fresh flowers are also used to decorate krathongs. The most used flowers include lotus, roses, orchids, marigolds, and globe amaranths. Joss sticks, a kind of incense, and a candle are also included.
In addition, several offerings may be added to krathongs. The most common are nail clippings, hair, and coins. Fai Yen, or sparklers in English, can also be added but are used more for taking photos of your krathong when setting it afloat under the full moon. It is believed that a properly made krathong is a vehicle to a new beginning, so if your Krathong stays lit until it disappears, it means a year of good luck.
How to Make a Krathong
Each offering added to a Krathong has meaning.
Hair and nails symbolize sad thoughts and feelings to be washed away with the water. It’s said from the old era that when bad things happen in our lives, sometimes people will cut their hair and nails as a sign that they have let go of all the bad/sad thoughts and feelings.
Adding coins is a symbol of merit and are believed to be collected by poor souls who have crossed over to help them get to a better place.
Joss sticks (a type of incense) and a candle are added when you are finished garnishing your krathong. Using one joss stick symbolizes paying respect to spirits who have passed such as a loved one or friend, and the candle venerates the Buddha with light. Flags are optional, but it is a traditional ornament of a Krathong.
Finally, if you plan on floating a krathong this festival season, please make sure your offerings are biodegradable to help protect waterways.