They’re partying like it’s 2547

RYAN WENZEL

Although the majority of the world lives in the year 2004, this Saturday, Thais and Thai culture enthusiasts will observe the Thai New Year, 2547, with the Songkran Festival.

The festivities take place over three days and include Thai food, entertainment, and religious observance. Hundreds of people will attend the festival at the Thai Buddhist Temple of Chicago, including Weinberg junior Judy Suwatanapongched.

“I’ve been attending the New Year festival for as long as I can remember,” she said. “Songkran and other events at the temple are a great way for Thai people from Illinois and Indiana to get together and socialize.”

Attendees can get a taste for Thai culture, literally, as independent vendors and restaurants will fill the temple with authentic cuisine — from pad thai to the less common but very popular “yen ta fo,” vegetarian rice noodles in red soup.

“Any Thai food you’d want is sold here,” Suwatanapongched said.

The festivities will also include live entertainment by local singers, a classical Thai band and traditional dancers. Additional performances include volunteer karaoke and sword fighting; comedy routines are also common.

But according to Suwatanapongched the highlight of the cultural program is the beauty pageant, in which young Thai girls, sponsored by local organizations and companies, compete for the title of “Miss Songkran.”

The contestants proudly display authentic Thai clothing, answer one free-response question, and collect donations from the public before the winner is announced.

The religious part of the New Year ceremony commences at 10 a.m. on Sunday. Participants sprinkle water on the Buddha image and on each other as a gesture of respect. Many Thai families view the Songkran Festival as an opportunity to donate money to the temple, and others “give alms” to the temple’s monks by offering them robes and food.

This year’s Songkran festival will be organized by the Thai Consul General of Thailand. Consul Secretary and Northwestern student Archawee Jamjun called the Songkran festival “an important link to Thai culture.”

Weinberg sophomore Bea Moraras, president of NU’s Thai Club and regular attendee of the Songkran Festival said the event has personal significance as well.

“Going every year reinforces my own cultural identity because there are very few Thai holidays,” Moraras said.

Though the Songkran Festival is planned by and for the Thai community of Chicago, the celebration is open to everyone.

“Several non-Thais have been known to come, either on their own, or with a friend,” Suwatanapongched said. “The performances and the socializing are not exclusive.”

The temple is located at 7059 W. 75th St. in Chicago and opens to the public at 5 p.m. on Saturday.