Thailand’s belief in Buddhism has strongly influenced their culture. Many of the traditions and holidays the Thais celebrate are religious in origin, but some also celebrate the monarchy.
Here is a list of Thailand’s holiday schedule for 2016. Religious holidays change dates based on the full moon cycle, while other holidays have fixed dates. If a holiday falls on a weekend, it can be observed on the following day and workers are compensated for it. Alcohol is not served on religious holidays.
January 1 – New Year’s Day
Though the country is predominantly Buddhist and follows the luni-solar calendar, the New Year of the Gregorian calendar is considered a national holiday and is celebrated as such.
February 8 – Chinese New Year
The coming of the new year of the Chinese Lunar calendar is observed all throughout Thailand. Celebrations are prominent among the Chinese businesses and pocket areas, but it is not a public holiday and many shops stay open. It is widely celebrated by the Chinese population and is also enjoyed by people of other faiths.
February 22 – Macha Bucha
On the third lunar month, Buddhists meditate on the fundamental teachings of Buddha, mainly: to do good, to refrain from doing evil, and to cleanse the mind. Macha Bucha was believed to have begun nine months after Buddha himself achieved his enlightenment, when over a thousand of his disciples spontaneously gathered to see him. ‘Makha’ refers to the name of the third lunar month, and ‘bucha’ refers to veneration.
April 6 – Chakri Memorial Day
Each year on this day, Thais pay their respects to the monarchy through various religious ceremonies in the royal chapel. Chakri Memorial Day celebrates the leadership of King Rama I, who assumed the throne on this day in 1792. It was also the date when the new capital, Krung Thep (Bangkok) was founded. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the current king of the Chakri Dynasty, and is also known as King Rama IX.
April 13-15 – Songkran
Songkran is a widely observed holiday in Thailand. Many residents would travel back to their hometowns to celebrate it with their families, but the city remains busy thanks to the tourists who come for the festival.
Songkran comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Sankranti’, and it marks the change of the solar year to another. It’s celebrations lasts for three days, mainly: ‘Mahasongkran’ which is the last day of the old year, ‘Wan Nao’ as the day after, and ‘Wan Thaloeng Sok’ as the day when the new year starts. It is also known as the Thailand Water Festival because throwing water on each other is part of the Songkran celebrations, symbolizing the washing away of bad luck.
People can also make merit, by vising temples and offering food or alms to the monks. Songkran is also about paying respects to ones elders and ancestors.
May 1, observed on May 2 – Labor Day
The day celebrating the work force of Thailand coincides with the international observance of laborers. It is a national holiday, where work is shut down for the day to give people a day off from their hard work.
May 5 – Coronation Day
The current monarch of the Chakri dynasty is King Bhumibol Aldulyadej, or Rama IX. On this day in 1950, he was crowned king and is currently the country’s longest reigning monarch. Coronation Day is a national holiday. Celebrations start as early as May 3, where Buddhist monks would hold a service at the Grand Palace, and the official proclamation would be read by the Chief of Brahmin priests. On the day itself, a 21-gun salute is given by the Royal Thai Army and Navy. The king also honors citizens who have done excellent and outstanding work and services for the country.
May 11 – Royal Ploughing Ceremony
Farming is one of the major sources of income for Thailand, and the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an annual event that honors the ties between the monarchy, the government, and the farmers who help sustain the country. This is an ancient rite that marks the traditional start of the rice-growing season in Thailand, and it is also one of the country’s longest observed traditions that dates back to over 700 years. While it is mostly a religious ceremony, many state officials attend and participate in the rituals performed. Presently, the rituals are divided into two: The Cultivating Ceremony where the Lord of Harvest blesses the paddies, the seeds and the equipment. The second day holds the Ploughing Ceremony at the Sanam Luang near the Grand Palace.
May 20 – Visakha Bucha
Known as ‘Vesak’ in other countries, this holiday celebrates three important events in the life of The Buddha: his birth, his enlightenment, and his death. These events all fall on the full moon of the seventh lunar month, and devotees come together to make merits in the temples, give alms to monks, wash Buddha’s images, and listen to Buddha’s teachings.
July 19 – Buddhist Lent
The first day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month is signals the start of the Buddhist Lent. This runs for three months, and all monks and novices must stay in their temples for the entire duration. Only in extreme emergency can they leave, and even so they must not go beyond seven consecutive nights. Buddhist Lent is considered to be a time for intense meditation and contemplation, where all followers (laymen included) are enjoined to participate. The period ends on the eleventh lunar month, and is considered to be a time for happiness and celebration.
August 12 – Queen’s Birthday
This is a national holiday celebrating the birthday of Thailand’s Queen Sirikit, King Bhumibol Aludjadej’s consort. As she is considered to tbe the mother of all Thais, this day is also celebrated as the country’s National Mother’s Day. Royal emblems decorate the Grand Palace, as well as buntings of yellow cloth with the Queen’s portraits are hung outside as decoration.
October 23, observed October 24 – Chulalongkorn Day
King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V of the Chakri dynasty, was the monarch who successfully fought against the European colonizers. He was also instrumental in introducing modern conveniences to Thailand, including the installation of a postal and telegraph system, and the creation of a ministry. He was also key to the abolition of slavery.
November 15 – Loy Krathong
This is another event celebrated during the full moon, specifically on the twelfth lunar month. The moon is said to shine the brightest here, and the rivers are full. Thais gather on the river banks to light krathongs (small vessels made of banana trunks), which are then released on the river, making it a truly spectacular sight.
December 5 – King’s Birthday
King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on this day in 1927. Similarly to the Queen’s birthday, the national flag is displayed and buntings of yellow cloth with the King’s portraits are also put up.
December 10, observed December 12 – Constitution Day
Thailand was once under absolute monarchy, back when it was still known as Siam. In 1930, the country was experiencing economic depression and Rama VII was not doing well in handling these issues. Through a peaceful coup, members of the People’s Party pushed to have a constitutional monarchy, where the power of the monarchy was reduced, but still remained the head of state, military, and defender of all religions.
December 31 – New Year’s Eve
As the new year for the Gregorian calendar is observed in Thailand, so is New Year’s Eve. This gives the revelers time off to prepare for the dawn of a new year. Families take time to be together, and give thanks for the blessings of the past year.
Holidays give us a glimpse into a country’s culture. Thailand’s numerous holidays shows its visitors just how colorful and brilliant not just its culture, but also its people.
Photo by Greg Knapp