BANGKOK — Thai-Chinese around the country celebrate the coming of the Year of the Ox in the lunar calendar on Thursday, though their joy (and spending power) is soured by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Reflecting the essential need of our time, a shop in Ang Thong province even sells “Hell Money” packages that come with gilded paper resembling face masks – just in case your ancestors may need one. Each paper mask costs 20 baht.
Chinese New Year is celebrated for three days in Thailand: “Shopping Day,” when people go out to buy food, fruits and traditional desserts; “Offerings Day” – the last day of the lunar year – for holding prayers to spirits and making offerings to the ancestors; and “Going Out Day,” when the New Year begins in earnest and families gather for meals or travel together.
For this year, Shopping Day falls on Wednesday, Offerings Day on Thursday, and Going Out Day on Friday.
But the Ox could not have chosen a worse time to arrive. Reports say spending is notably lower this year during the Shopping Day, with many markets across the country witnessing record low numbers of clients. To curb the spread of the coronavirus, the government pandemic center has also advised people to avoid traveling and visiting their families.
Events and fairs to mark the Chinese New Year in Bangkok – the annual highlight of the usually bustling Chinatown – have been cancelled.
There are some small joys to be had, however. Friday will be a government holiday for the first time. HRH Princess Sirindhorn blessed Thai people through an official greeting card, and Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha himself entertained us with a New Year message… on Tiktok.
A look at how the Year of the Ox is celebrated around Thailand:
In Bangkok’s Chinatown, families set up altars and burn Hell Money in front of their homes.
A businessman donates goods and red envelopes (ang bao) to residents in northern Bangkok.
Worshipers wear face masks as they light incense at Put Cho Shrine in Phuket.
Officials inspect scales at a market in Suphanburi to ensure that shoppers won’t be cheated on the auspicious day.
A man prays and wishes for good fortune at the City Pillar Shrine in Korat.
Visitors make offerings to a local Chinese goddess at Chao Mae Lim Ko Niao Shrine in Pattani.
Tourism Authority of Thailand officials pose for photos in Surat Thani’s downtown to promote tourism to the province. (Wait, so does the government want us to travel or not?)