Loi Krathong- Floating away the negative in Ypsilanti, MI

28 04 2013

(November 2012)

Tomorrow night we will bring a piece of Thailand to Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA. After sharing our cultural traditionsloi krathong 1aaa surrounding Thanksgiving, we are excited to experience one of Bank’s traditional holidays. Loi Krathong is the day when everyone gathers by the river with beautifully decorated plate-sized rafts. Each one is handmade atop banana leaves, wood, or bread, and decorated with flowers, coins, betel nuts, and candles. One wishes to send away all the bad energy so that they can make room for the good new energy to take hold in their lives. After saying a small blessing in silence, the negative energy is sent afloat on the krathong, and as it drifts downstream, it marks the start of a new year, spiritually. The fish and birds slowly consume the float as it sails away.

Others will do the same kind of blessing, only they will let the hot air from the candle lift their bad chi up into the sky with a mini version of a hot air balloon. These lanterns will fill the sky, tiny flickering lights lifting higher and higher, until they disappear. Unfortunately, this is also a fire hazard in the US, and therefore not allowed. We will stick to the river.

Today I will scavenge for pieces of bark or large waxy leaves to use for our krathong. We will craft them tonight and tomorrow night, before gathering at the riverbank at 7pm for the ceremony. We will be joined tomorrow by a handful of friends and neighbors who are either curious about this foreign culture, or looking for another avenue to spiritual cleansing. Two of our friends have just completed their final chemo treatments for different types of cancer. The timing couldn’t be better for them.

~~~loi krathong 1aa

Loi Krathong is held on the last full moon in November, the last of the year, depending on how you define the start and end of a calendar year. In American astronomy, this full moon is referred to as Full Beaver Moon. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, “this was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Full Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter. It is sometimes also referred to as the Frosty Moon.” On this day in Ypsilanti, we bundled up in thick winter coats, wrapped our heads with scarves, and carried our krathongs down into Riverside Park, to the river’s edge.

In the cool light from the moon, we saw the water flowing, gulping, and mumbling quietly. Nobody else was around to hear its poetry. Bethany, our exchange son, and myself were there right on time, and hoping that others would not be late, because the cold was already tough to bear. Right on cue, dark figures could be seen walking in the distance towards the river bank. Only when they got within earshot could we tell which of our friends were there.

loi krathong 1aloi krathong 7I brought spare supplies for others to make their own krathongs, and we used the nearby bleachers to set up our workshop. The metal was cold, so nobody sat, but we crouched on our toes and carefully selected our leaves, flowers, pennies, and candles. None of us, except for Bank, had ever done this before, so we weren’t really sure what to do next.

  loi krathong 9 loi krathong 2

I lit my candle, gently placed it on my krathong, and paused. I took a moment to silently think about all the negative things that I wanted to let go, and which positive changes I was ready to embrace. I stepped forward, placed the krathong on the water, and pushed it into the current. Bethany followed next, and then others. We watched as our krathongs slowly drifted down the river. Some of them hit rapids, bouncing them back along the shoreline. Some required another push to get back into the current. One even got flipped over in the river’s turbulence, and we decided that it warranted a redo.

At the end of it all, we had a relatively brief celebration, and it was more like a remembrance. It felt very solemn and sacred, in the cold November night. There were no picnics or fireworks, like there would have been in Thailand. It became a new thing, this American Loi Krathong. Our own tradition.

When I compare this to New Year’s Eve and those resolutions, it seems like apples and oranges. This new tradition, while also a celebration, feels deeply genuine, and forward-thinking. I think we will be keeping this tradition alive, even after our Thai son returns home overseas.

loi krathong 4 loi krathong 5loi krathong 6  loi krathong 8 loi krathong 1 loi krathong 3

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