Water on the Hands


“Ok, this is semi-ritual, semi-ceremony in Thai culture, like with the festival I mentioned earlier, water is really important and so I guess on the Thai new year and also just other sometimes random special occasions water will be used to like give–bless, bless your elders. So what happens is like you normally have this golden or like silver bowl, I’m forgetting what it’s called, but you have like a bowl and you fill it with flowers and water, and you take like a smaller little bowl. Oh I remember its called a

Phonetic: K̄hạn
Transliteration: Water dipper
Translation: Bowl

and you just scoop a little bit and your elders (your parents and your grandparents) would hold their hands out and you would pour water over their hands. And when you do that you are supposed to say good things like ‘I wish you good health,’ and with the Thai new year obviously you would say ‘I wish you good luck or good health for the next year.’ And the water is representing like forgiveness and you’re also asking for their forgiveness for, like, all the bad stuff you may have done to them in the past year. So there’s that. And it also becomes relevant during like a funeral when like you will similarly pour water onto the deceased hands when they’re in like the casket. And similarly, when you approach them you are supposed to ask for forgiveness for any wrongings you’ve done to them throughout their entire life and you just kinda pray for them and wish them good luck whatever happens to them after their death.”


Informant (WP) is a student aged 19 from Chino Hills, California. Her parents are from Thailand and Laos. She currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview in the informant’s apartment. She learned this from her parents and her extended family. She interprets it to represent forgiveness and cleansing.


Water is used to represent the cleansing of a moral sense in different cultures’ beliefs around the world. Where this one differs is in the belief that the person washing is being forgiven, not the person being washed. The water in the ritual does seem to represent forgiveness and cleansing, and when it’s done seems to align with the amount of time associated with the forgiveness. At the new year, it is used to forgive a year’s worth of wrongdoing. At a funeral, it’s used for a life’s worth.