If ever there was a magical-looking festival, Loi Krathong in Thailand is it. A celebration to celebrate the release of any grievances from the past, the holiday, sometimes also called the Festival of Lights, is an enchanting event. Held annually across the country (this year on November 3), the festival’s origins are somewhat obscure, but the primary origin story calls it an homage to the country’s many rivers and goddess of water, which run like veins through the land.
Today, the holiday marks a ritual of absolution, a time to say goodbye to any misfortunes of the past year, and hope for upcoming luck. Participants create small boats – float-like structures made from banana tree trunks, bread, or sometimes Styrofoam – then make a wish and set them free, with a lit candle and incense upon their back. Celebrants often place locks of hair, nail clippings, or even bits of old clothes on the “boats” as a symbol of sending off the past. If the boat floats off out of sight, it’s a sign of good things to come.
Made in the shape of lotus flowers, the krathong, or boats, represent symbols of Buddhism, Thailand’s primary religion. The candle represents knowledge and wisdom, the incense is purity, and the flowers stands for praying monks.
Regardless of religious affiliation, though, anyone is invited to participate, and visitors can join local revelers at various rivers and ponds and other waterways. Hotels also offer rituals, too, often right in the pools on their properties. In addition to Bangkok, the island of Sukhothai holds a massive celebration. In Chiang Mai, and across northern Thailand, Loi Krathong, which is held all over the country, coincides with the lantern festival called Yi Peng, where thousands of floating lanterns are released into the sky.
Each year, Loi Krathong is held on the night of the full moon during the twelfth lunar month (usually November by the Western calendar), at the end of the rainy season and the rice harvest. With its thousands of floating, flickering candles, dancers, and flowers everywhere, it’s a mesmerizing sight.