It’s almost time for Zoe and I to say goodbye to Thailand, but we are so glad we were able to watch – and participate in – this very well-known festival in Chiang Mai. Before I get into the fun part, here’s a few details I learned about from this very informative online article.
Loy Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai
Loy Krathong is a festival celebrated throughout Thailand with the festivities in Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya being particularly well known. Thais use the festival to thank the goddess of water for providing life to the fields and forests and asks for forgiveness for polluting ways of the human. Loosely translated, Loy Krathong means, “to ﬂoat a basket”. How this looks in-person is that you literally make or buy a basket made of natural materials, light a candle and incense and send it off down the river! It’s kind of ironic that we are asking for forgiveness for our polluting ways… while polluting. But the materials were MOSTLY natural so perhaps forgiveness will be forthcoming.
“Loy” means to float and a “Krathong” is a small handmade boat traditionally made from a section of banana tree trunk. Modern-day versions often use banana stalks or bread which will disintegrate after a few days and can be eaten by fish. Styrofoam bases were once used but they were banned for the first time in 2017. Three cheers for no styrofoam in the river!
Buddhist devotees often craft krathong with banana leaves and adorn them with ﬂowers, candles, and incense sticks. On the night of the full moon, they light the candles and joss-sticks, and launch their krathong on a river, canal or a pond, making a wish as they do so and paying respects to the water goddess that guard the river. It is believed that the krathongs take away sins and bad luck and carry the wishes that have been made for the new year to start. Sometimes Thai people will cut their hair or fingernails and send it along with the krathong as way of sending off the bad and starting new.
Zoe and I participated on an excursion where they taught us how to make the baskets (all the while a continuous stream of Thai snacks emanated from the hosts- this is my kind of excursion!). This was a great class in Homeschool Art and it was not taught by me! In fact, my guide at the workshop suggested a few easier ways for me to make my basket. I think she sensed early-on that the gift of art is not strong in this one.
But wait, what about the lanterns? Ah yes, that’s what people call the festival so surely they are here somewhere. In my opinion, the little floating baskets got the short end of the stick by not getting a mention, but maybe this blog will change that. Be the change you want to see in the world!
Yee Peng Festival in Chiang Mai
In Chiang Mai, Loy Krathong coincides with the Lanna (Northern Thai) festival of Yee Peng, or full moon day of the second month of Lanna traditional calendar. Did you get that? Two festivals in one! In this festival, lighted Khom Loi (Lanna style sky lanterns) are released into the air through the course of the night. The act of releasing the lantern symbolizes letting go of all ills and misfortunes in the previous year, and Buddhists also believe that if you make a wish when you set off the lantern, it will come true (but only if you do good deeds the following year). It is during Yee Peng that you see locals’ homes and public places decked out in colourful hanging lanterns and flag decorations.
After our basket-making workshop, Zoe and I took to the streets to find lanterns. This was not a hard, nor expensive task. They were about $1.50 each and we were happy to get them in our packing cube colors. Good thing Haley is on her retreat in Southern Thailand because they did not have blue for her.
After sending off our floating baskets, we went to the spot where people were releasing lanterns. And by “releasing lanterns” I mean that they were standing around in a big crowd, lighting things on fire and hoping that they drift upward, away from the crowd. This was one of those “they would never allow this in ‘Merica” moments. I swear Zoe’s going to go back to the USA and break all kinds of safety regs because of what she thinks is normal! #whatsaseatbelt
Every once in awhile a lantern would go rogue and float down, fully on fire, into the crowd. Natural human behavior kept everyone safe. That and me, on full alert for any kind of flame drifting in our direction.
Lighting these things up and sending them off was not so simple! First you have to get the thing light with your sucky 7-11 lighter. Then you have to put it on the ground and hold down the bottom to let the warm air build up inside the lantern. Then, when you think it’s warm enough, you let go and it sloooowwwly drifts upward. You make a wish and then it’s gone! By our third one we were pretty good at it.
After sending our lanterns away we watched the crowd for awhile and loved seeing all of the lanterns float off into the night. It was so pretty and a LOT of fun. This was one of the first times I felt like we were actually participating in – and understanding – Thai culture. I’ll explain more in a future blog, but Thailand was a tough nut to crack, so to end on this note was bittersweet.
The whole experience was really interesting and educational. If nothing else, Zoe now understands that heat rises. We like to keep it basic here in Sherman World Academy. Next, I will need to go over fire safety. Or not.