Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Thais celebrate New Year with street food, dancing and a water fight

At Thai New Year the Buddha is bathed at a shrine before water is poured over the hands of monks and elders. Photo / Brett Phibbs
At Thai New Year the Buddha is bathed at a shrine before water is poured over the hands of monks and elders. Photo / Brett Phibbs

SONGKRAN

What: Songkran, Thai New Year celebration

Where: Mt Albert War Memorial, New North Rd

When: Sunday (Apr 10) 9.30am to 4.30pm. Free

Plans to take Songkran to the central city are being shelved because Kiwis "are not ready" for how Thai New Year is celebrated, an Auckland Thai community leader says.

Revellers in Thailand celebrate the three-day festival with huge water fights in the streets, and the community here had planned to bring the festivities to Queen St.

But New Zealand Thai Society president Songvut Manoonpong said people in Auckland would find it offensive to be splashed by water in public.

"People who do not understand Thai culture or the significance may be offended, and I don't think Auckland is ready for such an event in public," Mr Manoonpong said.

Songkran celebrations, including the water fight ritual, will instead be showcased at the Mt Albert War Memorial Park in New North Rd on Sunday, where about 3000 people are expected to attend.

There will also be about 50 stalls selling Thai street food favourites ranging from pad thai, som tam, hoy tod and khao neow moo ping.

The mainly Buddhist community will "bathe" the Buddha at a shrine before pouring water over the hands of monks and elders.

"Greeting with water signifies washing away the bad things and wishing a clean and good new life in the new year," Mr Manoonpong said.

"We wash the hands and feet of the monks and elders as a sign of respect."

Officially held from April 13 to 15, the water festival is celebrated for up to 10 days in some districts in Thailand.

Thailand's Ambassador to New Zealand Maris Sangiampongsa said the embassy backed events like Songkran because it strengthened people-to-people relationships.

"If we can make Songkran more public it would be wonderful ... but you cannot just splash water on New Zealanders because they don't understand why we do that," he said.

"In Thailand we celebrate Songkran in this way because April is the hottest month, but here if you throw water, even to Thai people, you cannot because it is very cold."

Mr Sangiampongsa said the Thai community in Auckland are "very educated people" and many owned and operated small businesses.

"Many own restaurants, and Thai cuisine now is very famous not only in New Zealand but around the world," he said.

"It is among the top three most popular cuisines here, but if we just stick to promoting food, New Zealanders will never get to understand other aspects of our rich Thai culture."

To mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties with New Zealand, the embassy is also bringing in a Khon - Thai mask troupe - performing a dance that is rarely seen outside Thailand.

Khon is traditionally performed in the royal court, by men in masks accompanied by narrators and a traditional piphat ensemble.

The Auckland performance will be held on April 14 at Auckland University of Technology.

- NZ Herald

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