The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, also known as the CCSA, stated through a spokesperson today that Songkran, which has previously been approved this year, will have the guidelines and “rules” decided upon this week by relevant agencies and ministries.
According to multiple Thai media sources, however, the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Tourism have very different views on how the event should be celebrated this year.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan O’Cha himself said that it was important that Songkran, also known as the water festival, Thai New Year, and Thailand’s biggest holiday, took place as the Covid-19 situation continued to improve. However, how the event would be celebrated was still a matter of discussion. The PM noted that many provinces and cities (including Pattaya) have already announced events, hoping to help local business owners and staff and drive domestic tourism but that final decisions on how to safely hold the event under Covid-19 precautions were still taking place.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture is pushing the CCSA and relevant agencies hard (despite many provinces already announcing concerts and events, including Pattaya) for a pure traditional Songkran. Although Songkran has grown yearly (minus Covid-19) in tourism popularity due to being “the world’s biggest water fight” and is a big earner for the entertainment, hotel, and alcohol industry, the event, traditionally speaking, has nothing to do with water fights. The Ministry of Culture is urging a return to this traditional style of Songkran, featuring small reunions with family, giving merit to local monks, gently placing water on the hands of elders, cleaning the family home as an entire family, village beauty contests, cleaning of religious artifacts, and other traditional activities like sandcastle building and wearing flowered shirts and/or traditional Thai outfits.
Some comments online have called for complete bans of water fights, alcohol consumption, concerts, parties, and other events. However, critics doubt this is “enforceable”.
The Ministry of Tourism, however, is reportedly arguing that a pure traditional Songkran would not help struggling business owners and staff nor encourage domestic tourism after a very difficult year and that there should be a balance between “fun” and tradition. Pattaya, who is currently planning on holding their Wan Lai festival on April 19th and “has a plan” to safely allow water in some capacity, seems to agree.
For many Thais, especially in Bangkok, this holiday is the one time of the year they get to go home and see their families for an extended period of time. Many of the guidelines, according to the Prime Minister, will likely be based around safe domestic travel, knowing that many younger people, some possibly asymptomatic with Covid-19, will be going home to visit elder residents in Northern province. The Prime Minister so far has repeatedly said the decision is “very difficult” and seems to be looking for a way to balance “economic recovery”, meaning events, concerts, and entertainment with tradition to allow people to mark the day as a family together.
Last year, the festival was completely banned, however was only done so by blocking domestic travel, banning the sales of alcohol nationwide, having curfews, and other strict measures that won’t be in place this year.