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Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year water festival which starts on April 13 every year.

The word Songkran comes from the Pali language of the Therevada Buddhist scriptures (Sankhara) and the Sanskrit word (Sankranti) for movement or change.

In ancient times, it was celebrated as a moveable feast, and set to occur as the sun moved into the Aries portion of the zodiac. In modern times the date has been fixed as April 13.

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Although the Thai people officially changed the New Year to January 1 in 1940 to coincide with the Western business world, the traditional Songkran Festival is still celebrated as a national holiday in Thailand.

The festival lasts for 4 days. Maha Songkran Day is the first day of the celebrations which marks the end of the old year. April 14, Wan Nao is the day between the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new year when foods are prepared for the temples. The third day of Songkran, April 15, is Wan Thaloeng Sok – the day on which the New Year begins and on the last day, Wan Parg-bpee, the ancestors and elders are honored.

The Songkran Festival shares some similarities with the Holi festival in India celebrated around the same time. One custom that Songkran shares with Holi is the releasing of small fish back into the rivers and steams. In Thailand, small birds may also be released from cages as part of the festivities.

While in India the throwing of colored water marks Holi, the Thai Songkran Festival involves throwing clear water – and lots of it! – although many add colored powders and scents to the water in Thai New Year celebrations in playful “water wars.”

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The tradition traces back to the pre-Buddist rituals of spring festivals where the throwing of water was meant as a symbol of luck to bring good rain for the crops. It was later converted to the religious custom of cleansing the statues of Buddha once a year. In many places there are parades with the statues of Buddha and as the parades pass, crowds shower the Buddha with water.

Pouring small amounts of scented lustral water on the heads of the elders on Wan Parg-bpee as a sign of respect is also part of this custom. In many temples throughout Thailand people bring sand to symbolically replace the sand that they have carried away on their sandals throughout the year. The sand is formed into pagodas called phra chedis sai and decorated with colorful flags as part of the Songkran New Year festivities. It may be that this tradition began as part of the cleansing rituals where new, clean sand was added to the floor of the temple once a year.

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The foods that are served at traditional Songkran Festivals depend on the part of Thailand you visit. Pad Thai Noodles; Khao Chae, a delicious rice dish; Gaeng Kiew Wahn Gai, chicken with green curry; krayasad, a mixture made from puffed rice, oats, peanuts and Thai noodles that is sweetened with palm sugar and coconut syrup; Kanom Tom, sticky rice and mung bean balls piled high into a pyramid shaped dessert and Kanom Krok, coconut rice pancakes are some of the more universal Thai foods enjoyed during the Songkran festival.