Songkran Day was picked as Thailand's National Day for the Elderly back in 1982, the year Bangkok celebrated its 200th birthday. It was a good choice at the time because gratitude and respect for the family and one's elders were still the lifeblood of Thai society. Nowhere was this filial piety better demonstrated than at the traditional family gatherings held during the three days of Songkran when extended family members came together from far and wide. It was a ritual that helped to make the "golden years" a time of joy for many.
But times changed, population growth slowed and the gradual shift from an agricultural economy to one dominated by industry and services had a profound effect on rural life and sparked a migration to the cities. The strong ties that had always kept the extended family together came under pressure and did not always withstand the strain. The past three decades have also seen radical changes in attitudes towards marriage and family, backed by a growing desire for greater individualism, a revolution in communications and information technology and a much faster and more stressful pace of life.
As a result, many adults, tied down with work and their own families and with limited time for recreation or holidays, are struggling to find the time, energy and funds with which to care for their ageing parents and relatives in rural areas. While the majority still make the homeward trek at Songkran, there are so many negative factors nowadays that some find resorts and other attractions more tempting. That means that the joy that should accompany the Songkran festival is absent in more than a few homes as elderly parents find they have to settle for a phone call. That is sad, but it is the long-term outlook that is the biggest cause for concern.
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