Of the many public holidays on Thailand’s calendar, King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Birthday on 05 December has long been one of the most prominent. Until his death aged 88 on 13 October 2016, this holiday had long been celebrated as the King’s Birthday, as well as being marked as Father’s Day.
That also continued to be the case on 05 December 2016, which fell during Thailand’s year-long period of mourning following King Bhumibol’s passing. As of 2017, though, the King’s Birthday public holiday has moved to 28 July, the birthday of new King Vajiralongkorn, or King Rama X. Nevertheless, 05 December remains an important public holiday in remembrance of King Bhumibol, and is now known as King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Birthday Anniversary.
King Bhumibol, born on 05 December 1927 in the US state of Massachusetts, was widely revered by people across Thailand, and consequently his birthday has long since given rise to a large number of celebrations and festivities across the country annually. In view of his death, it is likely that going forward these occasions will take on a more commemorative tone than their previous celebratory nature, but will nonetheless serve as an annual opportunity to remember the late king.
As King Bhumibol was seen by many as the symbolic father of Thailand, 05 December has also long been celebrated as father’s day nationwide – in the same way as mother’s day falls on 12 August, the birthday of Queen Sirikit – and this has not been changed since his passing. On the occasion of father’s day, Thais pay respect to their father and grandfather, often offering them a canna flower, similar to a lily and known in Thai as dok phuttha raksa (ดอกพุทธรักษา).
The occasion of King Bhumibol’s birthday on 05 December has previously been marked by celebrations and candlelit ceremonies around Thailand, both in the form of large-scale organised events and smaller gatherings of groups of individuals in local communities.
Great numbers of Thais have traditionally poured onto the streets to honour the King on his birthday, often camping out the night before in order to get a good spot and the chance to see the king up close when he made an appearance and gave a speech. Many Thais at these events wore yellow shirts, yellow being the colour considered by many Thais to represent Monday, the day of the king’s birth in 1927.
This is based on an astrological rule influenced by Hindu mythology, which holds that the colour is that of the god that protects that day. For this reason, many patriotic Thais have long been seen wearing yellow at the start of each week; the Queen’s birth took place on a Friday and so her traditional colour is light blue, and Thais will often wear light blue clothing on a Friday and around the time of celebrations for the Queen’s birthday. Though this practice of colour-coded clothing had been in decline in modern times, its rejuvenation was sparked by celebrations of the diamond jubilee of the king’s coronation in 2006.
Though the precise nature of this year’s celebrations for King Bhumibol’s birthday in Bangkok and elsewhere around Thailand remains to be seen, it is likely that there will be a continuation of the previous tradition of using elaborate light displays to decorate royally prestigious areas of Bangkok such as Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Phra Nakhon, and other roads around and close to the Grand Palace. There have also conventionally been traditional ceremonies at Sanam Luang royal ceremonial ground, which earlier this year was the location of King Bhumibol’s cremation, and this will also likely be the case again going forward, too.
Similarly, it is to be expected that there will continue to be fairly prominent celebrations of King Bhumibol’s birthday in Hua Hin, where he spent much of his time at Klai Kangwon Palace, and which regularly played host to the most high-profile royal birthday celebrations each year.
Having said all of this, the scale of the occasion of King Bhumibol’s birthday has for a long time meant that events and festivities have taken place all over Thailand, and this is almost certain to remain the case in the coming years.
It has in the past been commonplace for parts of the Grand Palace complex to be closed to the public at certain times around King Bhumibol’s birthday, in order to allow royal ceremonies to take place there. This is likely to be the case in the future, too, as the late King’s birthday continues to be marked.
In years gone by prior to King Bhumibol’s death, the grounds of the Grand Palace complex were also on some occasions opened to the public on the evening of the king’s birthday and the days around it, with no admission fee for non-Thais. This admission fee was also frequently waived in the daytime on 05 on 06 December while parts of the complex were closed. It is not yet clear whether this will be the case going forward around the time of the late King Bhumibol’s birthday.
Either way, ignore touts who tell you any differently about closures of the Grand Palace – scams are common. If you need to check opening details, call the Grand Palace directly on 02 623 5500, extension 1830. We also recommend following us on Twitter, as well as reputable travel bloggers like Richard Barrow, who frequently post details of planned closures.
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Have you celebrated King Bhumibol’s birthday in Bangkok or elsewhere in Thailand in the past? Will you be here for the occasion this year? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by That Hartford Guy; Eric Molina; Benoit Mortgat; edwin.11
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