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 Nang Noppamas

Two annual festivals are celebrated with great gusto all over Thailand. These are Songkran and Loy Kratong. The kings' and queens' birthdays are honored, as are various Buddhist holidays and regional fairs and festivals.

Songkran is the celebration of the New year, according to the Thai lunar calender. It usually falls in April. People who have moved from villages to cities come home to enjoy this holiday with their families. In some regions, the partying goes on for days.

Celebration of Songkran involves a thorough house-cleaning; presentation of gifts to monks, elders, and spirits; pilgrimages to holy shrines; releasing of caged birds; parades and dance; and general merrymaking.

Songkran comes during the hot, dry season, shortly before the big rains. People anticipate the rains by splashing a lot of water on one another. Anyone on the street is apt to get an unexpected dousing from a friend - or a complete stranger. Soon after Songkran, it is time to plant a new rice crop. Chiang Mai is a favorite place to celebrate Songkran. There are parades, religious ceremonies, beauty contests, and lots of water throwing.

An annual Elephant Roundup is help in mid-November at the Surin Sports Stadium in northeast Thailand. More than a hundred elephant demonstrate amazing skills. An Elephant Village and Study Center is being developed to help preserve these wonderful animals. Several major Thai corporations are helping support the center.

The most beautiful festival of all in Thailand is celebrated in late October or November. Loy Kratong is held on a night when the moon is full. A traditional kratong is a tiny basket, or boat, made of woven banana leaves. People place flowers, incense, candles, and coins on kratongs and set them afloat on a river. The candlelight twinkles for miles and miles on the water - a lovely light to see.