Reflections from Songkran

As I get a few days away from Songkran, the Thai New Year, I wanted to give some observations of the Thai customs.
Songkran, once a polite and formal holiday in which young people splashed water and went to their families to show honor to their elders. Blessing, cleansing, and honor mark the holiday as people from all corners of the nation of Thailand come together to celebrate with their family. However, I realized through conversations with some of our Thai friends, we come to understand the chaotic water fights have existed always, but the bawdy and wildness has emerged stronger and stronger over the past generation. Last year, teenage girls were taking their tops off; drunkards were making things more edgy, young men look for opportunities to grope the female Songkran participants.
What happened?
People lose their moorings when celebration trumps meaning. When people begin to lose their cultural heritage when they start to forget why they do certain customs. When we decouple the meaning of a tradition, we lose the purpose for doing something.
I have loved watching the church, often seen as a foreign entity, come alongside of Thai culture and help the Thai people hold onto their customs. In some ways, they reinterpret what some of the meaning are or where the blessings come from. However, in Songkran, we do not see the future blessings coming from God.
One example comes from the water pouring blessing, or rot nam dam hua. The young people use this ceremony to show honor to their elders as they go on their knees before their family’s elders. They ask for forgiveness for the things they did in the previous year. They then pour scented water over their elders hands, who in turn pray a blessing over the youth.
The Christians can still participate in this without looking to the spirits of Thailand to bring blessings or curses, but to God. They can see forgiveness coming from Jesus and blessings poured out by their Father in heaven.
We enjoyed watching the church partake in this ceremony, culturally appropriate to Thailand and yet sensitive to Jesus teachings. Thailand has become a party place led by their tourist centers of Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Phuket and others as they jubilantly celebrate their New Year. Others want to fight back against this and hold onto the traditions and the meaning of their deep culture that the New Year starts with a cleansing of the past and openness to the future year. Perhaps the church will play a pivotal role in helping reinfuse cultural meaning into the festivals of Thailand.

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4 thoughts on “Reflections from Songkran

  1. Neat ways to put into the gospel into practice/real world situations.

  2. Interesting! I hadn’t heard of that tradition.

  3. interesting. some traditions can be borrowed to enrich our christianity

    • I am not sure that the purpose for borrowing traditions is to enrich the Christianity of outsiders, but to infuse new meaning into old traditions for Christians within that culture…

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