by Jackson Hart
It was the 12th full moon of the lunar year in the agrarian outskirts of Chiang Rai, Thailand. The residents and volunteers of New Life were following Mama, our favorite local shopkeeper, to the village lake. Smiles, laughter and anticipation set the tone of the evening.
We were celebrating two of Thailand’s most beloved traditions: Loi Krathong and Yi Peng. Loi Krathong is an ancient ceremony of Thailand dating back to 13th century. Traditionally, one would craft a small krathong (which translates to “floating boat”) out of banana leaves and the rounds of tree trunks then decorate the vessel with flowers, candles, incense, money and a piece of yourself such as a piece of hair. The handmade raft would then be sent down the local river or lake. Yi Peng, which is celebrated simultaneously, follows a similar tradition except rather than releasing a boat into the water, lanterns are lit and sent into the sky, sometimes by the thousands. Both traditions symbolize being able to let go of bad luck and bad feelings while welcoming in good luck and happiness – the same thing we aim to do every day at New Life.
At New Life, we invited local handicrafters to help us design our own environmentally-sustainable krathongs. We also had two resident-led workshops in preparation for the festivities. In one workshop, we decorated our lanterns to commemorate those we have lost. In the other workshop, we learned to fold origami cranes to attach to the lanterns and hold our wishes. The combined festival was so beautiful. We watched our candle-lit krathongs float into the lake and our lanterns soar through the air, joining the stars in the sky. It was a moment of release…letting go. So magical. So intimate. So real.