New Year's in April
Celebrating Thai Songkran in Austin
April is Austin's prettiest time of year, and it's just full of reasons for celebration: balmy weather; burgeoning wildflowers; and myriad food, wine, and music events. And beginning April 13, Austin's Thai community celebrates Songkran, the centuries-old Thai New Year festival.
Songkran means "change place" and refers to the sun transitioning from Aries to Taurus to begin the new year. A joyful holiday with both serious and playful aspects, it's a time of religious and filial commitment, good food, and lighthearted fun.
Water is the most essential part of the three-day festival, symbolizing both cleansing and renewal: Traditional new year activities include ritual spring cleaning in houses, temples, and public places, as well as ceremonial bathings of Buddha figures, family elders, and venerable community members. Young people honor their elders with sprinklings of scented water and gifts, and the elders reciprocate with blessings for the new year.
Families and friends gather to pay respects to older members, remember their ancestors, and celebrate new beginnings. In addition to entertainment, parties, and sharing of festive meals and snacks, Songkran in Thailand is not complete without exuberant water games: It's the hottest time of year there, so getting continually soaked by water balloons, hoses, and water pistols is just considered part of the fun.
Traditional new year foods vary among different regions in Thailand, but some are pak jor (spicy green soup), nam prik (spicy minced pork and vegetables), gang hung lay (Northern-style chicken curry), kanom tian (a pyramid shaped sticky rice dessert), and tua that (a sweet nut concoction similar to peanut brittle). A near-universal favorite is krayasad, a granolalike snack made from puffed sticky rice, peanuts, oats, crunchy noodles, palm sugar, and coconut syrup. Every family has its own recipe, and it's traditional to exchange decorative containers of krayasad with friends, much like Americans do with Christmas cookies.
During the week of Songkran, several venues in Austin are staging festival activities that are open to the public (see below). So give a thought to springtime renewal, spray your garden hoses with vigor, and Sawadee Pee Mai (Happy New Year)!
3202 W. Anderson (in Shoal Creek Plaza), 467-6731
Tuesday, April 13, 6 and 8pm dinner seatings, reservations required by April 11
Celebration includes a khan thoke dinner (large trays of Northern Thai-style appetizers and entrées), tropical drinks and champagne, Thai classical dancing, New Year's water blessings, and door prizes.
620 Congress, 472-1244
Wednesday, April 14, reservations required
Owner Gene Kobboon plans traditional New Year's festivities that include water blessings of his family elders, classical Thai dance, a khim dulcimer performance, and special holiday dishes in addition to the regular menu.
601 W. Sixth, 236-0856
Saturday, April 17, reservations recommended
Classical Thai dance entertainment with dinner, beginning at 8:30pm
Wat Buddhananachat of Austin
8105 Linden Rd., Del Valle, 512/247-4298, 512/247-3436
Saturday, April 17
The Austin-area Thai Buddhist temple, founded in 1986 and home to eight Thai monks, will celebrate Songkran with water blessing rituals in the morning and traditional dancing, festivities, and holiday foods later in the day.