Thailand is well known for her festivals which take place throughout the year. Many of the holidays are influenced by Buddhist and Brahminical religions but with the passage of time a number of them have been adopted in deference to international practices. I believe that December and January have the most number of public holidays, a fact brought home to me this year as I am now employed by a Thai government school and have the day off for most of them and lose income as a result. Nevertheless, I do enjoy any chance for a new insight into Thai history and culture.
NEW YEAR’S DAY (1-3 January 2012)
The official New Year’s Day in Thailand has undergone several changes. It used to fall at the end of November and was changed to April the first during the reign of King Rama V (1868-1910). The universal practice of celebrating the new year on the first of January was adopted in 1941 in deference to the Western calendar and a desire to modernize the kingdom.
I believe that the December 31/January 1 New Year’s celebration becomes bigger each year, primarily because the Thai people love to have fun. This year, I attended the Phuket Countdown 2012 celebration held at Sanam Chai in Phuket Town (situated between Provincial Hall and the school where I teach). There were three nights of performances by Thai musicians and plenty of food. While I did notice perhaps a half-dozen other foreigners on the last night, for the most part I was the only white face in the crowds of Thai locals.
I feel the Thai people are especially lucky as they celebrate three different New Years — those of the Western calendar, Chinese lunar calendar (usually in late January or early February), and finally the three-day Thai New Year (Songkran) occurring in mid-April. As the 31st of December occurred on a Saturday and the 1st of January on a Sunday this year, most employees had the preceding Friday off from work as well as Monday and Tuesday, the second and third of January, as well!
NATIONAL CHILDREN’S DAY (16 January 2012)
According to Thanapol Chadchaidee, author of Essays on Thailand (D.K. Books, 1994), “children are considered as the most valuable resources of the nation. They are a powerful force to the development and stability of the nation.” Thailand held it’s first National Children’s Day on the first Monday of October 1955, a date that continued through 1963. In that year it was changed to the second Saturday of January which has remained ever since. Each year, the Prime Minister provides a slogan for the celebration. For 2012, the slogan is “Unity with Knowledge, Preserve Thai Identity, Mind the Technology,” There are open-houses, concerts, and other celebrations throughout the kingdom on this day honoring the children of Thailand.
Further indication of the high regard Thais have for children is provided by Khun Thanapol:
To prepare themselvesto be strength of the nation, children should be industrious in their study, make use of their time wisely, being disciplined, dilgent, helpful to each other, unselfish, being aware of right and duty and responsible towards the society. In addition, they should keep the country clean and conserve the natural environment and public property. If children are aware of their own future and of the nation by behaving in such a way, they will be called ‘Worthy Children’ and the country will be prosperous.
TEACHER’S DAY (16 January 2012)
In 1956 Prime Minister Field Marshall P. Pibulsongkram, who was the Honorary Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Teachers’ Council at that time, addressed a gathering of teachers from throughout the country and suggested that as teachers were “our benefactors and persons who gave light to our life they should have a day of their own so that students would get an opportunity to pay respect to them.” He continued, “On other auspicious days such as New Year’s Day and the Songkran Festival we pay a tribute to both our living and dead relatives and make merit to dedication to their souls. Since our teachers play an important role next to our parents, I would like to propose the idea to this gathering and ask you to consider it in principle.”
The Teachers’ Council voted unanimously to set up Teachers’ Day. This was passed to the Cabinet who passed a resolution on 21 November 1956 declaring that January 16th of every year would be celebrated as Teachers’ Day. This occurred for the first time on 16 January 1957 and the event has been held nationwide ever since. Highlights of the day include religious activities, a ceremony of paying respect to teachers and activities designed to strengthen unity among teachers.
ELEPHANT DUEL DAY (18 January 2012)
Also known as KING NARESUAN THE GREAT DAY, this has been celebrated on 18 January each year since 2006. Prior to then it was marked on 25 January but then researched proved that date to be incorrect (the 25th has remained a holiday under the name of ROYAL THAI ARMED FORCES DAY. The day commemorates the occasion on which King Naresuan the Great defeated the Burmese Crown Prince, the Maha Uparaja, in a duel on elephants.
Surprisingly, since the victory over the Burmese on 18 January 1592, the Thai kingdom was not invaded by its enemies again for the next 150 years. The elephant battle has become legendary in Thailand because, following it, the Siamese monarchs subjugated their foreign enemies and expanded their territory.
The event is commemorated today by the laying of floral wreaths front of the statue of King Naresuan in Nakhon Ratchasima.
CHINESE NEW YEAR (23 January 2012)
Chinese New Year is heartily celebrated in the many Chinese communities of Thailand. In Phuket, the festival is second only to that of the VEGETARIAN FESTIVAL which occurs in September or October. While not a national public holiday, government schools and many businesses close for the day in order to give students and employees and opportunity to join in the many processions and fireworks displays. The OLD PHUKET FESTIVAL is usually held in conjunction with Chinese New Year (this year will see the 13th annual festival — centered on Thalang Road — held from the 28th through the 30th of January).
ROYAL THAI ARMED FORCES DAY (25 January 2012)
(See ELEPHANT DUEL DAY).