The word Songkran is from the Sanskrit language and means the
passage of the sun from one sign of the Zodiac to another. That
means there are twelve Songkrans each year, but the significance
of the this Songkran (sometimes called Major Songkran to
distinguish it from the others) is when the sun enters the sign
of Aries the Ram. The particular event was also closely related
to the Vernal Equinox.
Celebrating New Year at the time
of the Vernal Equinox was very common in the past. The Songkran
celebration is similar to those of the Indian Holi Festival, the
Chinese Ching Ming, and the Christian Festival of Easter. Indeed
April Fool's Day probably originated as mocking those who didn't
accept the switch of New Year from April to January in France in
the Sixteenth Century.
In ancient times, the dates of
Songkran and the Vernal Equinox would have been closer, but they
have shifted due to an effect called procession, where the Earth
wobbles on its axis over a 25,000 year period.
was originally set by astrological calculations, but it is now
fixed on 13 April. The festival may be extended if some of the
celebrations fall over a weekend.
In Thailand, New Year
is now officially celebrated on January 1, in line with almost
all other countries. Songkran was the official New Year until
1888, when it was switched to a fixed date of 1 April. It wasn't
until 1940, that this date was then shifted to 1 January.