Last night, starting at around 7:00PM (19:00), everyone at Baan Unrak walked down to the outdoor auditorium as the last purples of the evening faded into the black of night. On the cement steps, the children, adults, and volunteers gathered in anticipation of the 2018 New Year’s Celebration. Three fires blazed on one side of the dirt volleyball court, kids tossing sticks and an empty coke bottle into the flames for fun. At the top of the auditorium, the older children took their time arranging the New Year’s present bags that were each labeled with a name written in English.
While the last stragglers arrived, thin orange candles were passed around. Starting with someone lighting their candle in the nearest bonfire, wicks touched from person to person to ignite each flame, as if to symbolize the spread of warmth and love in this community. Before the special New Year’s Celebration could start, two volunteers rode in on a motorbike, returning early from the Night Market to participate in the event. As they took their seats and their candles were lit, Didi signaled for the acoustic guitar to lead the chant for the evening’s special meditation.
The group sang the familiar words, the candles burning bright in their grasps. “Babanam Kevalam (Love is all there is)”, volunteers followed along, children smiling at their attempts at speaking Thai. Once the chant had continued for a lovely fifteen minutes, Didi brought everyone to the silent part of the meditation. With the crackling of the bonfires and the rustling of the trees, everyone spent the next twenty minutes clearing their minds and cleansing their souls in the evening air. To finish, Didi spoke of the year to come. “Many of you will be going to the Night Market and hope to buy food or toys. Please remember that though these goods might be special, the most important thing in the world is you.” With that, she asked that every individual look inside themselves and reflect on the year that was coming to a close. What had pained, what had hurt, what had caused sadness, these negative things should leave the body and be purged within the flames of the bonfires. After another brief moment of silence for everyone to do that, the meditation ended and it was time for the special New Year’s events.
As a teenage boy lit the biggest bonfire, the older girls started calling out calling names to hand out the bags of goodies. Didi herself was surprised when her name was called and she received a special gift-wrapped present. Children hurried to receive their gifts, mainly consisting of: a new blanket, a set of clothes (sometimes sandals), and one or two brand new toys. One boy was delighted with an Iron Man mask while a girl opened and closed her new hot pink pencil case. Many also excitedly gripped the 20 Baht they had received, some indeed itching to spend it on a small treat at the Night Market.
From a truck, pizzas cooked at the bakery operated by the home went around on their rectangular trays. The younger residents eagerly ate the uncommon evening snack, taking as many as four slices to savor the cheesy goodness. One of the bonfires burned out and sweet potatoes that had been cooking underneath it were pulled out, piping hot. These sugary tubers were also passed out, one volunteer loving them enough to eat at least three. Once stomachs were content, the children began hopping into the back of the truck in order to travel to the Night Market.
Eight volunteers spent an hour watching over twenty-five kids who had signed up to enjoy the Night Market. Usually, Baan Unrak operates three stalls at the Market: two bakery tables and one that sells handwoven goods. The children regularly take turns helping to run the stalls, so getting to wander the Market was an exciting activity. Splitting off into small groups, children pulled the volunteers through the crowds in order to shop for festive foods, drinks, and small trinkets, or just to watch the New Year’s singing and dancing in the middle of the Market. After an hour, everyone piled back into the truck with tales of their Night Market adventures. At about 10:00PM (22:00), the New Year’s Celebration at Baan Unrak officially ended with the children waving goodnight as they went to bed in order to awaken in the new year of 2018.