Loy Krathong: from spiritual festival to a Thai Valentine

Girls with Krathong

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This week-end, Loy Krathong took place in Thailand amidst a slew of restrictions by the Thai Junta. In recent years, Loy Krathong evolved from a spiritual festival to a Thai Valentine day.

Origins of Loy Krathong

As many things in Thai history, the origins of Loy Krathong are murky at best. It is a festival related to the importance of water in the Thai traditional society. It is thought to have originated in the ancient capital of Sukhothai in the XIIth or XIVth century with Brahmin influence. Another Thai interpretation is the belief that it pays hommage to the water goddess, Mae Khongkha.

When does it take place?

As with many Thai festivals, it follows the lunar month rather than the calendar month. As such it should take place on the full moon of the 12th month of the lunar calendar. In modern-day equivalent, that places it generally at the beginning of November.

The evolution of Loy Krathong

From family event to commercial event

Foreigners have probably the most retained the family dimension of Loy Krathong, young Japanese children in traditional Thai garb often going to float the Krathongs on local ponds or rivers as in Benjasiri park. Conversely, real Thai kids, are more likely to try and snatch the coins or banknotes on the krathongs beign floated.

Japanese girl krathong
A little Japanese girl floats her krathong with a lit candle in Benjasiri park’s pond.

From a tradition-based family event based on passing time together and preparing artisanally the “Krathongs” (baskets, made of bread or more sadly of polystyrene nowadays), the feast has become a commercial event. As such, sellers are quite crowded around the places where Krathong floating is common, such as Benjasiri Park.

Krathong sellers
Sellers of Krathong drive a hard bargain trying to sell their products on the evening of Loy Krathong

The commercial element is so present that on the Loy Krathong evenings, the entrance of Benjasiri park is generally packed full with vendors.

Vendors of Loy Krathong
The entrance to Benjasiri park packed with vendors on Loy Krathong.

A spiritual occurrence become a romantic symbol

Each year, Loy Krathong is the occasion to read panicked messages of the Government asking teenagers to be careful about… sex! Yes, Loy Krathong has become the equivalent of Valentine’s day for the Thais, mainly because a tradition says that if a couple float a Krathong together, they will be bound for life. In Thai modern society, affections and love bonds (especially among teenagers) are far more fleeting. Nevertheless, Loy Krathong remains thus a romantic occasion with the sexual consequences thereof.

Many young single Thai ladies also float their Krathongs in the hope of finding a partner or happiness in life.

Lady taking a picture of Krathong
A lonely lady pushes her Krathong with her hopes for companionship… but does not fail to take a picture.

 

Today: a social media opportunity

As with many Thai events, there is an element of searching for “good luck” as it is believed that putting hair or nail clippings on the Krathong takes away your bad luck on the river. Today, like many things, though, Loy Krathong has mainly become an occasion of taking selfies.

Lady taking selfie with Krathong
Of course, this would not be Thailand without the compulsory selfie (here with a Krathong).

The same happens for girls who come out together and pose for pictures in order to have the perfect memory of their Krathong.

Picture girls with krathong
Girls pose for a pic while pushing their krathong in the water

For travelers and tourists, it is an occasion of taking some cute photos. It is also an occasion to regret the waste and the pollution this tradition creates with its mass usage of non recyclable tools. In the end, like many other things in Thailand, the original spiritual justification just lost its meaning and became a mass commercial event… One more.

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