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On November 14 this year, thousands of beautiful glowing khom lois, or “floating lanterns,” will light up the night skies of Northern Thailand. Meanwhile, the same luminescence will appear on waters throughout the nation. For this is the full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai calendar, and when the festivals of Yi Peng and Loy Krathong, respectively, take place.

The festivals have changed a lot over the years (for example, Yi Peng originally took place on the full moon of the 2nd traditional Thai month), and have become quite the hit tourist event. Nearby countries including Laos and Malaysia also celebrate the holidays now, attracting many spectators and participants.

Loy Krathong goes back to ancient tradition. The Brahmanic festival was celebrated in honour of the three Hindu gods commonly known as Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma.  The same simple, yet beautiful lanterns would be made with candles and paper to be displayed in places of prestige.  

About 150 years ago, the tradition was adopted by Buddhists in honour of the Buddha, probably at the insistence of King Rama IV. The water lanterns have also been used to thank water spirits and the Hindu goddess of the sacred Ganges River. There are many other beliefs concerning the festival’s origins; I say choose your favourite =) They are all lovely and meaningful!

After the change, more people began to participate in the tradition. Some still honour various deities, though now many create the beautiful lanterns with a single candle for a different purpose. They send them down the river as a symbol of their letting go of bad luck and past anger, hatred, and resentment. Sometimes people leave incense, coins, or hair and nail clippings on their lanterns to further express this intention. Thais will also visit local temples to ask for blessings in the new cycle.

Beauty pageantry now takes place at the festival too. Legend has it that Nang Nopphamat, a 13th century consort, was the first to ever float a decorated raft, which is why the contest is titled the “Nopphamat Queen Contest.” However, some contest that instead the name is derived from the protagonist of an old Thai novel, who is seen as a great standard for woman to aspire to.

Yi Peng, while celebrated in fewer numbers, yet is extremely iconic, is a celebration of merit. A single candle is placed in a large funnel of rice paper, secured with wire or bamboo. The heat causes the lantern to rise to the heavens. When these happens by the thousands, it is stunning to witness. The most elaborated and famous celebration takes place in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s ancient capital, and stretches over three days alongside Loy Krathong. It’s not too late to book a ticket! ; )

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