Loy Krathong –Thai Festival of Lights

Loy Krathong –Thai Festival of Lights

Loy Krathong is one of the biggest festivals of the year in Thailand, second only to Songkran (Thai New Year’s Day) in the size of celebrations and traffic jams caused by people returning home for the festival.  The festival is popular for both the beauty of its traditions and the time of year that it’s celebrated.  Loy Krathong is a lunar calendar festival, celebrated on the day of the full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai calendar.  This usually falls in mid-to-late November.

What is Loy Krathong?

Loy Krathong festival is an important Thai holiday and a day to visit home and spend time with loved ones.  The word loy in Thai means “float”, while a krathong is a special miniature raft made for the occasion.  A traditional krathong is made from a cross-sectional slice of a banana tree trunk which is light enough to float, that is then decorated with folded banana leaves and flowers to make it as attractive as possible.  So loy krathong really means to float your miniature raft down a waterway, whether a river, canal, lake, a small pond behind the temple, or out in the sea.

These days krathongs are made in a wide variety of styles and looks, as well as with newer materials.  Hard bread krathongs have been designed to decompose fairly quickly after the festival and also to provide a nibble for the fishes as they float along.  Foam-based krathongs have also been created since they are easy and cheap to make and also float well.  While in the past krathongs were made with all natural materials, these days it’s common to see them decorated with ribbons and plastic flowers, and held together with staples and pushpins rather than traditional bamboo or palm leaf stem skewers.

Giant Kratong

Aside from decoration, to qualify as a full-fledged krathong your raft must carry some special items: a candle for beauty and to pay respects to the Buddha, 3 incense sticks representing the 3 jewels of Buddhism (the Buddha as teacher, the Dharma teachings, & the Sangkha monkhood), and a coin as an offering.  Many Thai people will also include gifts of food and betel nut for the spirits as well as hair and nail clippings meant to carry away the bad parts of themselves.

Interestingly, it has become common to see young boys floating in the water plucking the coins out of the passing krathongs and into their own pockets.  People who have launched their krathongs have already made their offerings, so they don’t seem to care what happens to the rafts after they float off.

Traditional Kratongs

Why is the holiday celebrated?

Thai civilization is ancient and people have been practicing traditional ceremonies since before there was writing.  The history of the Loy Krathong is thus not well known, though certain teachings are widely accepted.  Here are some beliefs about Loy Krathong:

  • The ceremony of loy krathong is used to pay respects and apologize to the animistic Mother Water Spirit (Phra Mae Khong Kha).  Thais usually speak words of apology for using, wasting, and fouling precious water over the year before launching their rafts.
  • Floating a krathong pays respect to the Buddha and the great Naga serpent (Phraya Nag) who lives in the water.
  • The tradition of making and floating lotus-shaped krathongs is recorded to have started in the ancient Sukhothai kingdom by Nang Noppamat, a consort of 14th-century Sukhothai King Loethai.
  • Large-scale public celebrations of the festival began over 200 years ago in the Rattanakosin Period with Bangkok as the nation’s capital.
  • Floating a krathong with a romantic partner will bring blessings to your relationship.  Some couples float 2 krathongs and watch the travel down the river – if they stay close together this bodes well for their future.

Whatever the original reasons for Loy Krathong, this festival has become an important family day and always falls on the full moon which is a special Buddhist day every month.  The weather in November is generally clear and cool with the rainy season having just passed and rice harvest in progress, so the timing is right for a joyous festival.

How do people celebrate?

Krathongs are usually made on the day they will be floated so that the banana leaves and flowers stay fresh and beautiful, so people often get together to make these and even hold competitions for the most beautiful krathong.  In bigger cities, huge krathongs up to a few meters across are often made by competing companies and institutions and presented in a sort of pageant.

People float their krathongs at all times of day though it’s traditional to launch under the light of the moon.

Traditional lanterns that you might see for Loy Kratong

Most every small town Loy Krathong evening celebration will include stage shows with music and dance, fireworks displays, and especially a beauty pageant where a ‘Nang Noppamat’ is chosen.  Families get together and feast, and alcohol is consumed in abundance.

Loy Krathong is also known as Thailand’s romantic holiday and has gained a reputation not unlike that of Prom Night in America.

Where to Be For Loy Krathong

Depending on what you are looking for, each Loy Krathong celebration around Thailand will offer something different from charming family ceremonies at the local pond or river to spectacular displays and shows offered by the Bangkok megalopolis.

Sukhothai is regarded as the birthplace of Loy Krathong and the ceremony and show at the site of the destroyed ancient capital (now Sukhothai Historical Park) is considered second to none.  Decorations, traditional dance and fireworks define this location’s famous celebration. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukhothai_Historical_Park

Chiang Mai as the ancient capital of the Lanna northern culture also celebrates Yi Peng, which means “2nd month” by the northern calendar, at the same time as Loy Krathong.  In addition to regular Loy Krathong ceremonies, city residents also gather together to release khom loy, or floating lanterns, made from rice paper balloons and propelled upwards by heat from on-board candles or fuel cells.  The sky dotted with these floating lanterns and lit by firecrackers makes for a stunning and highly picturesque sight.  Khom loy are slowly being adopted in other regions, so you can still buy and release them if you can’t make it all the way to Chiang Mai.

Loy Krathong Song

The Loy Krathing Song is heard everywhere on the day of the festival, whether coming canned out of speakers at the mall or sung by families with their kids.  Despite the fact that you will quickly be driven mad by repetition, you can also learn the words quite easily to help you get more into the spirit of the occasion!

Wan phen deun sip-sawng

(full moon day, twelfth month)

Nam kaw nawng tem taling

(water has filled the banks)

Rao thanglai chai ying

(we many men and women)

Sanook kan jing wan loy krathong

(have real happiness together on Loy Krathong Day)

Loy loy krathong (x2)

Loy krathong kan laew

(after we have floated out krathongs)

Khaw choen nawng kaew awk ma ram wong

(I invite you my darlings to come out and dance)

Ram wong wan loy krathong (x2)

(dance on Loy Krathong Day)

Boon ja song hai rao sookjai (x2)

(merit will give us happiness)

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