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Giving Thanks in Thailand: The Festival of Lanterns


While Americans are braving grocery stores for last-minute thanksgiving items, fighting legendary traffic, and snoozing through football games after turkey bliss, different traditions will be practiced on the other side of the world. From November 24th until November 28, the people of Thailand will celebrate the Loi Krathong festival. The largest celebration is in the Thai city of Chiang Mai. Activities include the procession of hanging lanterns, fireworks display, Miss Noppamas beauty contest, light and sound presentations, arts and culture performances and the Krathong desire contest. It’s kind of a big deal.


Loi Krathing has been celebrated for centuries in Thailand, always between the middle of the eleventh lunar month and the middle of the twelfth lunar month (November). When the full moon shines on the rivers, everything is able to be seen more clearly. The celebration was once called Chong Pa Rieng, which means “floating lantern of royal ceremony.” It was a Brahman festival to worship the Gods. However, when the Thai people converted to Buddhism, they kept this ceremony because of its cultural heritage and altered it to worship the footprint of the Buddha on Nammathanati river beach in India.


“Loi” in English means “floating”, while “Krathong” translates to “decoration”. The tradition of floating Krathongs along the river specifically was started by Nag Noppamas, who was the favorite concubine of the Sukhothai king. She made large, lotus shaped Krathongs, and the king floated them along the river. He made it law from that point on, that the kings of Siam were to keep this tradition to worship the footprint of the Buddha on Nammathanati River.


Traditionally, the Krathong are made from the trunk of a banana tree, or a spider lily plant. Today it is more common for Krathongs to be made of bread or styrofoam. Styrofoam is often banned because it is not biodegradable and cannot be eaten by fish. The floats are decorated with banana leaves folded in elaborate shapes, incense sticks and candles. On the night of the full moon, Thai people launch their Krathongs on a river, canal or pond and make a wish.


There is also a Lanna (Northern Thai) festival known as Yi Peng. In this celebration, sky lanterns (Khom Loi) are launched into the air. They look like large groups of Jellyfish. These lanterns are usually made from rice paper or other thin fabric, which a candle is attached to. The lantern will float into the air because of the hot air trapped inside the lantern when the candle is lit. The Lanna people will also decorate their homes, gardens and temples with “Khom Fai” which are paper lanterns that do not float. These lanterns are very detailed in shape. There are also lanterns that hang from sticks and are carried around. These are called “Khom Thue”.

Yi Peng was traditionally celebrated on a full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna calendar, but is now celebrated during Loi Krathong, as a part of the large festival in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is the ancient capital of the former Lanna Kingdom. The result of both holidays being celebrated at the same time is an awesome display of candles, lights, lanterns and decorations filling the waters and the skies.


One Loi Krathing festival website provides this list of reasons for celebrating:

  1. To ask for forgiveness Pra Mae Khongkha because we use and drink water. Moreover, we often throw rubbishes and excrete wasted things in the water.
  2. To worship the footprint of the Buddha on Nammathanati River beach in India.
  3. To fly away misfortune and bad things like floating sin- Bhrama ceremony.
  4. To pay respect to Uppakhud whom mostly northern villagers show their gratitude. According to legend, he was a monk who was supernatural to kill Mara.

According to Wikipedia, the official reasons for Thanksgiving are as follows:

It has been an annual tradition since 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”. This was after the day had already been an American tradition since the first pilgrims feasted with over 90 Native Americas, to give thanks for their health, safety, and good fortune.

While the specific traditions of Thanksgiving and Loi Krathong/ Yi Peng contrast greatly, the main ideas are complimentary. This last week of November, the people of both America and Thailand will be paying respect to the gift of life, and asking for seconds.