Sawasdee Krab True Thai Believers!
A special time of year, the days get shorter and the leaves bloom into fiery bursts of red, orange and gold. The weather feels crisp and starts getting cooler or as our Thai friends would say หนาวมาก (cold very!)
In the country folks start shopping to buy big, ripe pumpkins. If your a city kid like myself you go shopping for a pumpkin spiced latte` at Starbucks. Back home in Alabama as a kid we took pumpkins to carve into Jack O’Lanterns for Halloween. Today in my DC neighborhood you need a pretty scary Jack O’Lantern to keep it from being mugged!
Right about this time of year folks start thinking about the coming holidays as thoughts turn to turkey, the dreaded Christmas shopping, Kratongs …Say what?
Well maybe not everybody except for Thai people here in DC and card-carrying Thai fanatics like me. For our fellow farang readers that don’t know what it’s all about let me enlighten you. Although not an official holiday in Thailand Loy Kratong, next to Songkran is one of the
most popular, and romantic, festival gatherings Thai people celebrate
each year. The festival is held on the night of the 12th full moon, which usually lands some time in November although this year in DC it’s in October.
Loy Kratong is a festival held to pay homage to the goddess of rivers and waterways, Mae Nam or mother water. Kratong supplies to make them can be purchased in the any market in Thailand. Usually they are supplied by the temple but you can make and bring your own if you like. At the festival there is dancing and music, best Kratong contests for adults and the kids, a beauty pageant and always lots of Thai food.
‘Loy’ literally translates to mean ‘float’, while Kratong is the Thai word for a sort of tray made out of banana leaves. Loy Kratong is celebrated by floating elaborate Kratongs decorated with flowers, candles and incense on just about any waterway in the kingdom. After dark when the full moon has risen then you lit the candle and incense sticks in your Kratong, make a wish and then set it in the water to float away carrying your wish to Mae Nam. The romance behind all this originated in the 13th century Sukhothai period Thailand and became an addition to the festivities especially as an event for couples to enjoy.
It all began with a fairy tale legend.
According to the story, Nang Nopamas, a royal consort in the court of King Ramkhamhaeng (the founder of Sukhothai), made the first Kratong as an offering to Mae Nam. She set it afloat on one of the canals of the
palace so that it would drift past her lover the King. The King was so
delighted with the creation, thus the origin of a saying that if two lovers set a Kratong adrift and it stays afloat until out
of sight, their love will last forever.
Definitely sounds romantic right?
Saturday night we celebrated our own Loy Kratong at Wat Thai here in DC. In the past it was celebrated on the National Mall with floating the Kratongs in the Malls huge reflecting pool. To me that was a cool touch to highlight a Thai festival here in America but maybe these days Homeland Security is too worried about terrorists in the mix. I hate to think of Secret Service agents’ body searching monks or taking away some little kids float as a threat to national security!
Therefore festivities were moved to Wat Thai and to accommodate floating the Kratongs they actually built a large pool at the temple!
Here you can see the pool they made in front of the stage and it’s so big I can’t even get it to fit in my blog! I bought my tickets in advance for $20 each or you paid $25 at the door. This years festivities ran from 5 to 8 PM and I planned to meet my boss Nott and her cousin who were going also. The ticket price included dinner and entertainment, your own Kratong provided by the temple and an invitation to join the group Rom Wang!
As soon as I got there I started snapping away with a digital camera I could have lots of pics of everything. After it was all over I wound up with about 100 pics that I will post in a new album here for everyone to see. John, one of the farang students in the Thai intermediate class at Wat Thai was also at the festival. He took lots of pictures also as well as some short video clips so you can hear some of the music and watch the performances. You can check out his pics here. This afternoon I also got an e-mail from one of the monks at Wat Thai who posted professional pics they had taken of the festivities which you can see here.
Geez if I knew all this I could have left my own camera at home! Everyone was taking pics of the dancers and entertainment but I tried to get a good picture of each entry for the Best Kratong contest. My favorite was the Royal Barge, cool huh? And it came in First Place for most Creative Kratong, too cool! There were all kinds of ideas for Kratongs entered in the contest. Some were pretty creative too like the Royal Barge. Some Kratongs tried to make a statement like one that a kid made about hurricane Katrina. They must have expected a really huge turn out and I guess about 600 people showed up. They even had a screen and projector set up in back of the audience so people could see what was onstage way up front.
After I met up with Nott my boss we went through and picked out our Kratongs while it was still early and some really good ones were left. I saw a cool blue one that looked nice and I like that color so that was my pick. After milling around and checking things out we were all hungry so we decided to get something to eat. In the main temple room downstairs they were serving dinner but everything was almost gone and it had only been an hour since it started! Rule number one for Loy Kratong next year- get to the food first!
You can see in this pic what was on the menu for everyone. No Pad Grapao for me 🙁 but I was starved so I went back for seconds and thirds anyway. Nott, her cousin and I loaded up on the spring rolls and drinks. Good thing we didn’t see the bottom of the sign first, oops! After eating until we were stuffed we went back to watch the rest of the performances and the Kratong judging and beauty contest for Ms. Loy Kratong.
The girls looked so handsome and the boys looked so beautiful all dressed up…what a minute that’s not right…
Nott and Song were smart and found a place to stash their Kratong in the temple, not me I preferred the challenge of running around taking pictures of everything with a camera in one hand and a coke can balancing my Kratong in the other.
With everyone dressed up so nice I felt kind of slouchy in my jeans and sweatshirt. But I know whenever I pose for pictures the only thing people notice is that I look like a giant by comparison! Actually that’s not true because everyone knows you always look 20 pounds heavier and a foot taller in pictures on the internet 😉
After the contests all the beauty contestants lined up around the sides of the pool with each of the ‘Best of’ Kratongs. Each Kratong was lit then the girls made a wish before setting it in the water to float. Then it was everyone elses turn. Now I had never done this before but how hard can it be? I watched a few others do it before giving it a go. It took a few tries to light my candle and incense sticks with the wax dripping onto the flame from holding it upside down but I got my candle and incense sticks lit then I reached over to put it in the water without bumping any other Kratongs or singeing the hair on my arms!
Gently does it I slipped my Kratong into the water *ploop*… Easily done right? Let me put it this way as everyone there could witness that’s the first time anyone ever saw a Kratong sink! Ok, ok it didn’t sink but it immediately capsized, oh man! I should have named my Kratong the Poseidon I pulled it out and tried to save it but everything was wilted and the incense was a dead loss. I never felt so farang in my life as I did at that moment. I wondered if my Kratong should have been recalled for a factory defect but as the techie guys in my office are quick to point out any time there is a snafu it’s usually ‘operator error!’
My now soggy, but bravely lit, Kratong limped along in the pool as I stood back to watch. A parade of folks, and I mean that literally with banging drums and dancing, flowed down to the pool to lit their own Kratong and float them in the water. It was joyous and very festive with the music and dancing like always with Thais who love sanuk. But soon trouble was brewing. Since this was one big square pool all the Kratongs in the water were huddled close together on one side like teen boys at a Junior High Dance afraid to mix it up with the girl Kratongs out in the middle of pool.
Sure enough several caught fire and the blaze threatened to spread including to the really biggest Kratong that won first prize! Several folks were frantically splashing water to put the flaming floatees out. By the time it was all over the prize winner was saved but the was Royal Barge capsized, Kratong carcasses were bobbing here and there and the big glass jar and candle for lighting the Kratongs jumped into the fray! It looked like someone invited Burma and war broke out! Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad for my poor little Kratong anymore.
After the excitement died down everyone got back into the fun of music and dancing with photo ops galore. Even yours truly got out there and took a crack at the Ram Wong but I think I’m living proof farang can’t dance! Still, when in Thailand or a Thai state of mind at least, do as the Thais do!
Nott’s cousin gave me a ride to the train station after everything was over and Nott and I were laughing the whole way about my poor little Kratong that couldn’t swim! She asked me what I would write about in my blog and I told her the truth that I would try to be funny (I hope) about everything without making fun of anything, khao jai?
All in all it was a beautiful festival and I had a lot of fun for three hours that flew by fast. Coming up for air between laughs I told Nott about the legend and King Ramkhamhaeng and the saying that if two lovers set a Kratong adrift and it stays afloat until out of sight, their love will last forever. Nott turned to me and said “But that not true! It’s a pool where they gonna go?” we immediately fell into more fits of laughter until we both could barely breathe as we rode down the highway.
Next year I think I’ll practice Loy Kratong in the bath tub first so I’ll be ready. And so it goes, till next time