Friday, April 27, 2012

The Thai New Year

Happy Songkran!
Songkran is the Thai New Year celebration that is celebrated from April 13 – 15. The Thai New Year is like many New Year celebrations across the world, a time to renew, cleanse, and give thanks for the previous year. People will go to Buddhist temples and give food to the monks, ask for prayers, and pour water over statues of Buddha. This last piece is where the throwing of water aspect of the Thai New Year that many people are familiar with is from. We've all seen the pictures of people in the streets of Thailand getting soaked with hoses and water guns having a grand time in the biggest water fight any of us have witnessed. Sometimes people will add talc powder to the water to represent the chalk monk's use for drawing blessings. All the water drenching is quite welcome; let me reassure you, because April is the hottest month in Thailand.
Songkran's history is from an Indian celebration and also coincides with several other SE Asian New Year celebrations, mainly Burma, Laos, and Cambodia. The origin of the word Songkran is from Sanskrit, meaning the entry of the sun into the zodiac. The spring equinox also occurs around this time, and we here in the states celebrate Easter, also a celebration of sun and renewal. It's kind of amazing when you look at all the festivals around the world and how many of them celebrate similar themes and occur at similar times. We are all so very similar yet so different. Same same but different!
I missed this festival when I was in Thailand last year, but this year someone told me about celebrations happening in the Silver Spring at the Thai Buddhist Temple. I did a little internet research and came up with the temple's website, which was of course, in Thai! This wasn't very helpful, but all I could read was Songkran, April 15th, and an address. Ok…..
I did a little more searching. The problem is that they were all secondary sites, which as we all know, you can't always trust! What was a girl to do? Go anyways, and bring friends with her!
I amassed a group of my people Sunday morning to set out for the festivities. Before hopping on the metro I did pre-warn them that I wasn't entirely sure how to get there. I did have an address, there were rumors of shuttles, and if not always a cab! Everyone looked at me a little doubtfully, but came anyways. Aren't my friends awesome?
Things went surprisingly smoothly. We got on the metro. We got off the metro. Standing outside the Glenmont metro was a long line of Asian people. Do you think we're in the right place? Yes, I do! We got in line, waited patiently for the school bus to shuttle us to the temple, and then arrived at Wat Thai, the Thai Buddhist Temple in Silver Spring, Md.

The group is excited and ready for some Thai food!

People, I was not disappointed! My main reason for wanting to go was to eat my face off. Does that surprise you? No, yeah, didn't think so! In the parking lot and surrounding grassy area around the temple were many stalls of Thai goods, Thai herbs and vegetables, and (most importantly) Thai food! Smells of grilling meats, rice, and spice immediately drove my olfactory senses into a happy dance! Thai food! Woohoo!

The group decided to do a round and feel out the first course of food. We amassed a very pleasant picnic of papaya salad, pad Thai, crab roll, curry puffs, and many other delectable treats. All to be washed down with Thai iced tea and Thai iced coffee. I had forgotten how incredibly sweet the Thai's like their coffee and tea. We found a spot on a grassy hill and dove in! Sharing kebab's, drinks, and pretty much everything we got with each other. It was awesome. The weather was warm, I was with great friends, and I ate a ton of delicious Thai food. I was in my happy place.

After our first course we decided to be cultural and peek into the temple. There many people were sitting or in line to ask the monk for a blessing. We walked around more after this, looking at the booths with scarves, carvings, and clothing from Thailand. There were also many many stalls with kaffir lime trees, Thai basil plants, and various other Thai related plants. I was super excited to pick up some galangal, Asian ginger, and Thai eggplant. During the walk around we saw the little parade they had. Girls of all ages were dressed up in beauty pageant worthy costumes and makeup and boys were playing instruments to serenade us into the New Year. Adults in the parade sprinkled water on us as they passed. You didn't think we'd miss out on the water throwing part of the New Year did you? Hey, we've got to pay homage to all parts of tradition! Plus, this was only a few sprinkles, not a full on deluge.

Next it was time for round two. We toured the remainder of the food stalls and picked up some more treats to munch on. My main mission here was MANGOES WITH STICKY RICE!!!!!! I was not disappointed! It was so good!

Then it was time to say good bye to the festival and head home. It was a great afternoon activity and an even better way to kick off my birthday celebrations!

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