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Celebrate in April! Holidays
 
Folklore of World Holidays
by Margaret Read McDonald, Editor. Gale Research Inc., 1992
April 5-6
People's Republic of China and Taiwan
Cold Food Day/Feast Han Shih

In the People's Republic of China and Taiwan, Cold Food Day was also celebrated, though this practice has long been neglected. The Taiwan legend behind this ... The Duke Wen of Ch'in wandered in exile for several years accompanied by his five loyal ministers. At one point, weak without food and near death, Kai Chu-chhui, one of the five ministers, saves the duke's life by cutting a piece of flesh from his own leg and cooking it for the duke to eat. Unfortunately when the duke came into his inheritance, he awarded his other four ministers but forgot Kai Chu-chhui. Kai then retired from public office and went to live in a forest where he cared for his elderly mother. Eventually the duke remembered his friend's sacrifice and searched for Kai in the forest. Kai, still angry from the neglect, and happy in his solitude, refused to come out so the duke set fire to the forest, hoping to scare him out. Kai chose to remain and so burns to death, thus becoming the patron of the "cold food" festival day.

Source:   Taiwan Feasts and Customs: A Handbook of the Principal Feasts and Customs of the Lunar Calendar on Taiwan, by Michael R. Saso. Hsinchu, Taiwan: Chabanel Language Institute, pp. 37-40.

 
April 13 or 14:   New Year
Celebrated when the sun enters Aries, as the beginning of the New Year in southeast Asia.

Burma

Thingyan
Water

On Thingyan, Tha-gya Min, King of the Tha-gyas, descends from heaven. Though visits are made to monasteries and temples, most noted is the playful dousing of water on all who pass. Children alone are said to have this privilege on the first day with adults joining in the remaining three days.

Symbolizing the washing away of the old year and the baptizing of the new, water is hurled from buckets, jugs, and bowls; thrown in balloons; squirted from pumps; sprayed from hydrants and cascaded from balconies and upper windows. Be sure to bring a raincoat and umbrella is you are visiting at this time of year!

As a sign of blessing, people pour water on the images of Buddha and on one another. They also sprinkle the bodhi trees, in memory of the original tree under which Buddha sat to meditate.

At pagodas, revelers offer flowers, lights, and pure sweet water while praying to the All-Enlightened One. Elders are honored with visits and bullocks and fish are set free, for Burmese are fond of saving creatures on the threshold of death. A parade led by dancers and drummers includes a bullock garlanded with padauk flowers with a silk carpet on its back and the words "Not to be harmed" painted on its sides. Women carry pots of fish to streams and rivers and release them there.

One Burmese ritual is to invite people to come and wash their hair. The noblest part of the body is considered the head so it must be clean for New Years.

Sources:  

Cambodia

Houses are cleaned and decorated on the last day of the old year. An unprepared house would invite misfortune and evil spirits. On New Years Day temples are visited and Buddha images are sprinkled with water. Prayers for health, wealth and happiness for the New Year are offered. On the last day of the celebration, small mounds of sand are piled up in the temple yard and bright paper banners are stuck in each. These banners carry the prayer for a happy and prosperous life, a life with as many days as the grains of sand in the mound.

Source:   Hi Neighbor Book No. 5: Burma, Guatemala, Spain, Sudan, Uar, New York: Hastings House in cooperation with the United States Committee for UNICEF, 1962, p. 58.

Laos

Though the Laotian lunar year begins in December, the Lao prefer to think of the year beginning with the fifth month, when the astrological signs point to light and prosperity and the hot season is about to be followed by rain. The people consult an astrologer to fix the time for Pimai, the New Year, which usually falls in April.

House and statues of Buddha are cleaned. It is a time for visiting and dressing up. Votive mounds (of sand or stones) are erected in the courts of the wat and along the banks of the Mekong. Streamers of colored paper bearing the signs of the zodiac decorate homes and buildings. Dances and masques commemorate the legendary ancestors of the Lao, and offerings are made of fruit, flowers, and new vegetables.

The Laotian like to think that when the year ends, the goddess of the old year leaves and the goddess of the new year takes her place. In between the two days, there is one day with no goddess at all, when everyone waits for the new goddess to arrive. On the first day, known as "the goddess leaves," everyone goes to the temples, carrying silver bowls of scented water to help the monks wash all the statues in honor of the new goddess. There is a water-throwing festival and much laughter. Sand is carried to the temples for it counts as a good deed for you in the New Year for the sand is then used for repair work and for laying on the ground.

On the second day, known as "the day stops," noon-works and often parents take their children to the countryside for water-throwing.

On the third day, known as the "goddess arrives," everyone breathes a sigh of relief and satisfaction. The goddess has brought the New Year so to celebrate everyone goes to the temple to offer her food and flowers, and to say special prayers to her. The day is spent eating, drinking and getting wet.

Sources:  

Malaya (Hindu)

First the house is cleaned and purified by sprinkling water mixed with cow dung or saffron. (I'd prefer saffron.) Brass is polished. People make it a point to set their eyes on auspicious objects or people first thing in the morning. Thus many children will make it a point to see their parents first thing in the morning.

The oil bath is the next important item of the day. The orthodox smear their head and body with a special mixture of leaves, flowers, saffron and milk. Afterwards, all don new clothes. Men wear white veshtis, and women wear sarees of the prescribed auspicious color. This is followed by elaborate worshipping at shrines and visiting of friends with presents of money bound in betel leaves.

Source:   Indian festivals in Malaya by S. Arasaratnam. Kuala Lumpur: Dept. of Indian Studies, Univ. of Malaya, 1966, pp. 25-26.

 
April 13 - 15
Thailand
Songkran

Monks are given special glutinous rice cakes and a sermon is given in the morning. The big festival takes place at the time of the full moon and lasts three days. On the first day, people bring food to the wat and listen to a sermon. Urns holding the ashes of the deceased are brought to the wat and placed on a special table. A holy string is placed around each urn and tied to the Buddha. Sermons follow throughout the day until dawn. The morning of the second day is similar to the first. Urns are taken back to households. On the third day, people bring food to the monks, followed by many ceremonies and blessings. On the last day, the younger family members visit the homes of the elders of the community and of their own family. They bow before each elder and say, "The year is commencing, may you continue to have health and prosperity." The elder then takes the holy water mixed with perfume and dabs it over the donor's face and hands, while offering a short blessing.

Only children and young people throw water at each other, but avoid drenching the elders as much as possible. Young people also release live birds from cages and set fish free from their bowls to swim in the river or canal. This ritual is thought to bring good luck.

Sources:  

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Folklore of World Holidays by Margaret Read MacDonald (Editor), is currently not available from our online bookstore. The publisher is out of stock. You can find a copy in your local library. If you would like to purchase this title, we recommend that you occasionally check to see if it has been reprinted.
 
An updated version of this book is available. Folklore of World Holidays by Robert Griffin (Editor), Ann H. Shurgin (Editor) / Hardcover / Published 1998

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