guest post by Samantha
This is a reflection of a Thai Christian in dialogue with a missionary about a Christian's dilemma in observing the traditional festival.
Loi Krathong or Yi Peng is a tradition that has been observed in Chiang Mai (and also in other cities) for almost 700 years now. Stories said that it was started by a royal princess who the first krathong shpated like a lotus as a present for the king during the ceremony of the festival. Since then the krathong became a recent addition and obviously so are firecrackers.
The festival is popularly known as Yi Peng from the word Yi (two) and Peng (full moon) festival (incidentally two full moon in a month is also called "Blue Moon" in other culture). People make krathongs from banana leaves where food, flowers, money, and other offerings are placed on together with lighted candles which they floated on the Ping River in the evening. They also release hot air balloons and lanterns made of saa paper or colored cellophance glued on a rectangular or cylindrical bamboo frame into air. The people believe that khratongs will drive away evil spirits and the prayers offered to the goddess of the river will give them abundant catch.
Yi Peng is celebrated also in the provinces. It is a well-awaited festival which draws not only the residents but also the visitors. The entire city, houses, shops, streets, canals, moats and the river is bedecked with lights and lanterns. The balloons that were released containing small-lighted candles gives a breath-taking scene as these float off into the dark sky. A spectacular sight nobody wanted to miss. Everybody seems to be on the street.
As Christians were taught not to participate in anything that is considered as pagan, we learned from the Old Testament people who always fall short of this law. We believe that "greater is He who is in us that the one who is the world" (1 John 4:4), and that no evil spirit can harm us, for "none can separate us from the love of God. The krathongs then can't do as it promised because of the truthfulness of the Word of God.
Meanwhile what we can do as Christians when it seems that the entire world around us is out there in the streets and celebrating? It was so ordered by our reverend king in the past. Do we want to be an outcast? Our people already branded us as people who embraced the religion of the western people who are actually subtly bringing in their culture, helping us to feel indifferent about our own culture, feeling it inferior against the other? A battle begins in our hearts then, because we believe that these traditions are part of our being, it's part of our culture that shaped our life, and to take these away is almost like renouncing our beginning. As Christians, we may ask then, how did Jesus react in the culture of his time? He surely has the same dilemma. Is He above the culture of His time, or He is beyond the culture?
I can't and I don't want to answer these questions. But let us heed instead on what was considered to be the first missionary has to say, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phi. 2:12-13).
We all have traditions that we followed, some may look ridiculous but our ancestors surely did it with a purpose. Let us take a closer look of our culture and examine it. We may not necessarily have to reject them instead let us find some truths in it and in the light of the word of God, let us act accordingly. The Bible is the source of all truth, it will surely help us.