Loy Krathong, often called the “Festival of Lights” has been celebrated in Thailand for an estimated 250 years. It falls during the full moon in November. Loy Krathong was originally celebrated as a Hindu thanksgiving ceremony to the River Ganges in India. And since Thais are always ready to adopt a new holiday, it was brought to Thailand and adapted to honor Buddha and to show gratitude to the goddess of water.
During this holiday, Thais create flower rafts, called “krathongs” using slices of a banana tree trunks, and decorating them with banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense. After the sun goes down, they take it down to the water and help each other light the candle, cradling their krathong in their hands. Then people generally close their eyes and say a prayer, silently confessing their sins and letting go of anger and resentment. After praying, they gently launch the krathong into the nearest river, stream or canal as a symbol of releasing their sin, anger and resentment.
Many people also light candles or luminaries in front of their homes or along the walls of the local temple. In northern Thailand, Loy Krathong takes place over several evenings and is usually accompanied by stage shows, parades, fireworks and the release of hot air lanterns into the sky. (To see the biggest collective release of these hot air lanterns in Chiang Mai, you can go to the YouTube video by Mike Griffiths entitled “Mae Jo Loy Krathong 2010”)
Due to Loy Krathong’s historical associations with Hinduism, Buddhism and animism, some local Christians feel that it is against their conscience to participate in this holiday, so they stay home. Other local Christians feel that Loy Krathong lends itself to adaptation as a way for Christian believers to express our own faith commitment. Christians can take this opportunity to confess our sins to the Lord and send a flower raft down the river as a way of symbolizing the Lord’s forgiveness. Psalm 103:12 says, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Some Christians write prayers of blessing on small slips of paper and tuck them into the krathong as a way to bless Thailand. It’s also a great time to give thanks to God for his generosity to us. At Loy Krathong, I like to read James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” I believe that when we can find ways to enter into local cultural expressions without compromising our faith, it is a positive witness that Jesus truly is Emmanuel, God with us! It’s good news that you do not have to give up being “Thai” in order to follow Jesus Christ.
This Christmas, would you lift up a prayer for the people of Thailand that they will come to know the Father of Lights, the only one who can truly “remove our sins as far from us as the east is from the west”? Also, would you consider sending a special end-of year donation towards my support so that I can continue sharing the light of Jesus in Thailand? Thank you so much for your faithful ongoing partnership!
American Baptist Int'l Ministries
New Life Center
Chiang Mai, Thailand