New Year in South and Southeast Asia Date in the current year: April 13, 2019

New Year in South and Southeast Asia Most people think that Asian countries only use lunar (or, to be more precise, lunisolar) calendars. While this is true to some extent, there are exceptions. For example, the date of the traditional New Year’s festival in many countries of South and Southeast Asia is based on the entry of the sun into the constellation of Aries. In modern times, it usually occurs around April 13 in the Gregorian calendar.

In most cultures, New Year used to be tied to the spring equinox that falls around March 20 or 21 in the Northern Hemisphere. In ancient times, the sun’s entry into Aries coincided with the equinox, but this has changed over time because of the axial precession of the earth. Today, it occurs in mid-April.

In many South and Southeast Asian cultures that lie within the Indian cultural sphere, the traditional New Year is still based on the sun’s entry into Aries, meaning that it is celebrated in April. The date of the holiday may vary depending on the time zone and local tradition, but the celebration usually begins around April 13 and may last up to three days. During this period, New Year celebrations are held in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, parts of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and the Maldives.

Probably, the best known name for the traditional solar New Year in South and Southeast Asia is Songkran. The festival is called so in Thailand, where it is one of the biggest public holidays. The official celebration lasts for five days, enabling people to visit their relatives during the holiday.

Songkran is associated with numerous traditions that have a symbolic meaning. During the festival, most people visit local Buddhist temples and offer food to the monks. Other traditions include visiting one’s elders, dressing up in traditional clothing, paying tribute to ancestors, and participating in colorful parades.

A traditional ritual performed on the occasion of Songkran is pouring water on Buddha statues as well as on other people (to wash away their sins and bad luck). Over the years, the tradition has transformed into massive water fights that take place throughout the country. Many streets are closed to traffic so that people can splash water on each other.

In Laos, the New Year festival is called Pi Mai or less commonly Songkran. In the English language, it is often referred to as Lao New Year. Like in Thailand, the festival is associated with water because of its perceived purifying properties.

Water perfumed with natural perfumes or flowers is used to wash homes and Budda images, respectfully pour on one’s elders and monks, and soak friends and passers-by. Over the years, the tradition of throwing flour at each other has also developed. Other holiday traditions include wishing one another a happy New Year, singing, dancing, decorating Buddha images with flowers, and setting animals free to make merit.

In Myanmar, the New Year festival is called Thingyan. During the holiday, the government relaxes the restrictions on public gatherings. In Sri Lanka, the festival is known as Sinhalese New Year, but it is celebrated not only by the Sinhalese people but by most Sri Lankans throughout the country. In Cambodia, people celebrate by preparing special dishes and playing traditional games.

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Category

Public Holidays, Religious Holidays, Folk Festivals

Country

Thailand, Laos, Maldives, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia

Tags

New Year in South and Southeast Asia, Songkran, public holiday, folk festival, religious holiday