Following Songkran (Thai New Year), Loy Krathong is the next best thing both Thais and globe-trotters look forward to once April has long gone. Falling on 23 November this year, Loy Krathong takes place on the night of the full moon of the 12th month, according to the Thai lunar calendar – which is the month of November in the Western Calendar.
Literally translated, Loy Krathong means floating banana tree trunk; ‘Loy’ stands for ‘floating’ and ‘Krathong’ stands for ‘decorated banana tree trunk’. The term as a whole describes the occasion when people gather along the riverbanks of Thailand to float their banana trunk decorated beautifully with flowers, candles and origami-like banana leaves, traditionally folded by the hands of those who float it. The reason being lies heavily in ancient beliefs. As Thailand traditionally was an agricultural country, water was and has always been the cornerstone of Thailand’s farming economy; the country’s abundance and prosperity lie in the ebb and flow of the river. So for some people, Loy Krathong is a day to give gratitude to the goddess of water, Pra Mae Khongkha, as well as asking her for forgiveness for polluting the water. Floating away the krathong is also one’s way of brushing off bad luck, cleansing the life of misfortunes and misdoings from the past.
Other than the full moon and the candle-lit river during the orb of night, other things that stud and scatter the sky during this period are lit lanterns. Glistening the sky with its warm flames, floating lanterns are also seen as a symbolic release of bad luck and negativity. And because of this, Loy Krathong got its nickname as the Lantern Festival or the Festival of Light.
Being one of the most enchanting festivals of Thailand, Loy Krathong is celebrated in every city throughout the country – small or big, north or south — and is attended by millions of people, both young and old, women and men. The festival also features many fun-filled performances, with people wearing Thai traditional costumes and riverside streets filled with a lineup of vendors. However, to dive deep into what Loy Krathong is all about, we’ve curated a few fun facts so you can understand this Festival of Light better than you ever have before.
Hero image credit: Unsplash/Leon Contreras
Though created for the purpose of worshipping the goddess of water, Loy Krathong is actually not so far from what one would describe as Valentine’s Day. Like Songkran (and many other festivals in Thailand), Loy Krathong for a single person as well as for couples has a dual-purpose. Since the olden days, Loy Krathong has been the time where women and men are out socialising together and meeting each other for the first time – with some falling in love and meeting their soulmates. As for couples, the Lantern Festival is a time where, together, they wish for happiness and long-lasting love as they float their krathong on the river. Funnily enough, the annual full-moon festival is also associated highly with the loss of virginity of Thai teens due to the romantic atmosphere and the granted opportunity by parents to be out together.
2. The use of candles, incense sticks, and flowers
These are the must-have items for krathong — all of which are Buddhist symbols. The candle symbolises knowledge and wisdom. The incense sticks represent pureness and compassion. And the flowers stand as the elements for worshipping the Buddha and the higher spirits.
3.The banana tree
Of all the things, why the use of the banana tree trunk? The reason being is that the tropical plant is biodegradable. More importantly, it floats. The fibrous trunk is airy and light, which enables it to float well on water, unlike other tree trunks or stalks.
4. The meanings of strands of hair, trimmed fingernails and bits of clothes
Some believe putting strands of their hair, trimmed fingernails and bits of fabric cut out from their old clothes is a way of brushing away misfortune and bad luck.
5. Coins and the coin collector
Coins are put in the krathong as a way of making merit and after the belief that they will bring back wealth and abundance. With these days the economy has gotten real tight and a new job found emerging during this festive day is that of the coin collector. As the people float their krathongs away, some often find their krathongs being stopped along the way by these coin collectors whose income revolves around the number of coins they find in the krathongs. Some might be appalled by this act but if you look at it in a different light, you’re actually making merit by enabling the coin collector to receive your merit.