On November 17th, Thailand celebrated Loi Krathong under a full moon. Loi Krathong (pronounced cruh-tong) is a day to ‘let go’ by symbolically releasing a krathong (handmade floating decoration) into a body of water. Simultaneously, thoughts and prayers honor the body of water and apologize for the harm and pollution done to it throughout the year.
In order to prepare for the special day, our Thai co-teachers led students in crafting beautiful krathongs made from banana tree trunks and covered with folded banana leaves to create a lotus-shaped design. I cringed at the krathongs of my staple-happy students, knowing full well the staples would probably end up at the bottom of river or in the mouths of fish, but in spirit of the holiday, I let it go.
Once the students had folded and secured the leaves in place, they filled the inside with vibrant flowers, sprinkled petals over top, and pierced the trunk with sticks of incense and candles.
One of the many things that I admire about kids is their ability to quickly let go, forgive, and move forward. I was slightly envious at how simple this holiday would be for them; their concept of ‘letting go’ is still uncomplicated and pure.
But even kids aren’t immune to the irony that engulfs this day…
When I first heard about Loi Krathong, I was baffled by the irony of it; people apologize for polluting the water, by purposely polluting the water. Although much of the float is biodegradable (the banana tree trunk, leaves, and flowers), thousands of incense sticks, candles, coins, staples, etc. are plunked into bodies of water all over Thailand. Although styrofoam floats are no longer used, I’m sure water creatures don’t find candles to be delectable of digestible, either. Can’t we just say a verbal apology?
Although a verbal apology would certainly be more eco-friendly and less hypocritical, part of the beauty of this holiday lies in the mellow luminosity of the krathongs in the water, which bump into each other like bumper cars as they bob around and eventually congregate back at the waters edge.
Newly lightened spirits sit by the water (taking pictures of themselves) while soft reflections from the candles bounce off the water and give the night a gentle ambiance charged with opportunity for easy release. Faces glow and soften as the put their kratongs into the water and shoo them away. Some people linger by the water’s edge and watch their krathong until they can no longer see it.
The sky is spotted with sky lanterns that have been released on land. The whole site is magical and soothing to watch (until one catches on fire and becomes a giant fireball plummeting down towards the park-goers). But mostly, the parks are ablaze with small flames that serve as vehicles for carrying away the ideas and thoughts we no longer need to hold onto.
Loi Krathong is like a packaged trio of New Years, Valentines, and the 4th of July, without the hype and pressure and with all the freak accidents. We let go of things in order to start fresh, young lovers frolic in the park past dark along the waters edge bathed in candlelight, and eyes of those young and old light up as they spell quickly-disappearing words with sparklers.
It was nice to have a day dedicated to appreciating water- the vital life force we often take for granted- and to letting go. Does the act of releasing something tangible (like a krathong) solidify the ‘letting go’ piece? Does it make it easier? Maybe I didn’t need a krathong in order to let go…
Thats the nice thing about holidays; they are malleable. Although celebrated collectively, they are interpreted individually, and meaning and emotion is construed based on our personal circumstances. On Loi Krathong, without a krathong, I let go of negative thoughts about a relationship that recently ended, and it felt good.
What do you need to let go of?