This week, most people in the United States are home with their families, eating huge turkey dinners, arguing with relatives and watching football. Growing up, I always enjoyed Thanksgiving. My grandmother was a great cook, and it was fun to have the family all together in one place. We had all the traditional fare; turkey, potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, and homemade dinner rolls. That was just the tip of the iceberg. With my grandparents (they raised my little sister and me) being country folk from a small town in Oklahoma, they had their own traditional food which often included deer steak and a plethora of desserts. In addition to the pumpkin pie, we could look forward to banana pudding, complete with vanilla wafers; and sometimes my grandmother would make a “mock apple pie,” made from a recipe on the back of a box of Ritz crackers. Believe it or not, it tastes just like apple pie! We also had “Ambrosia” and “Chocolate Delight.” The Ambrosia was a Jello, whipped cream, and fruit concoction, while the Chocolate Delight was a chocolate-layered dessert made with a graham cracker crust, chocolate pudding, and whipped cream. So, it’s no wonder I struggle with my weight!
In Thailand, they obviously don’t celebrate Thanksgiving and most people have no idea the holiday even exists. Turkeys aren’t indigenous to Thailand, and the ones farmed here are nearly as small as chickens and don’t taste the same as an “American turkey.” There are expatriates here who import frozen turkeys from the U.S. and try to make a killing on them here. Would you pay $100 for a Butterball? I wouldn’t. So, I forego the traditional Thanksgiving holiday. Interestingly enough, the Thais have their own significant holiday at the same time as Thanksgiving in the States. This holiday is called Loy Krathong.
Loy Krathong is the “Festival of Lights” and it’s a huge deal here. Traditionally, people go to a Buddhist temple for a blessing, then after dark, they purchase a floating lantern made with flowers, banana leaves, and a candle. These are then set afloat, which symbolizes the washing away of sins in preparation for a new and better year. The floats are biodegradable, and are mostly eaten by fish, which also gives merit to the person who sets the lantern afloat. The result here in Chiang Mai is seeing the Ping River set aflame in the colorful candle light of thousands of these small lanterns, with families standing on the banks reflecting on the past year.
In Chiang Mai, Loy Krathong coincides with the Yi Peng festival, which is the same thing, except instead of the lanterns floating in the river, they release larger ones into the night sky. There are thousands of them. Tourists from all over the world descend upon Chiang Mai to participate in the event.
The lanterns are made of rice paper and normally have a bamboo or light-wire frame. The heat from the candle causes the lantern to rise, much like a hot air balloon. While they are very beautiful floating in the sky, they can result in some problems. Normally, the tiny candle extinguishes itself, causing the lantern to slowly descend back to earth, but sometimes they can start a fire. The wire frames also present a hazard to animals. Seems there is a dark side to everything.
The celebration is anticipated every year by the locals (especially businesses), and tourist alike. Chiang Mai benefits from the influx of money, but the streets and restaurants are crowded, and prices for everything rises. I fought through the crowd last year to take part in the festival, but this year decided to celebrate at home. I have to admit seeing the lanterns floating in water and in the air is an amazing spectacle. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before. If you have the opportunity to ever come to Thailand to participate in the festival, it’s a sight to behold!
So, whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving with your family in the States, or Loy Krathong on the bank of some river in Thailand, I wish you all the best and hope you are treasuring this time of family, friends, and food!