It All Adds Up
New Year Traditions
Lao people celebrate New Year according to the ancient Hindu calendar. The festival lasts for three days and falls on 13, 14 or 15 April on the Gregorian calendar. This period is known as Pimai.
The festival coincides with the end of the dry season and the start of the rains. It is seen as a day of rebirth and purification.
The first day Sangkhan Long is considered to be the last of the old year and so people clean their houses in preparation for the new year ahead.
They carry sand and silver bowls of scented water which is used to help the monks clean the Buddha statues, while the sand is used to build sand mounds in the courtyards of the temples. These mounds are usually built on river banks. The mounds are decorated with flags, flowers, money and candles, and people make wishes for the new year.
The second day Mueu Nao is considered a dangerous time because the spirit of the old year has departed, while the spirit of the New Year has not yet arrived, and therefore there is no spirit to protect them from any misfortunes. This day falls between the end of the old year and the beginning of the New Year. It's for this reason that people might stay home and not do anything but have a day of rest.
The third day Sangkhan Kheun is the start of the New Year and is the most joyous day of the festival. Firstly, people go to the temple and make offerings of prayers, food and flowers. They then return to their homes for a special family ceremony to welcome the New Year. This ceremony known as soukhouane, is performed on new year as well as any important occasion, such as a birth, death or even a marriage.
The ceremony is performed sitting down around a table which has a bowl of flowers with candles placed on top known as baci. Offerings are placed under the baci such as food and drink. At the ceremony the family is joined by a morporn who is a highly respected member of the community who recites appropriate prayers. He has a piece of string tied to his finger which as attached to the baci, and so do other senior family members.
After the ceremony, the morporn is offered whisky which has been placed under the baci. He always refuses at first but finally accepts. It is then offered to all the adults of the family.
A New Year ritual of using the threads from the baci is carried out where each person of the family in turn is tied around the arm and blessings are carried out. For the blessings to work the threads must be worn on the arm for three days. It is after this they must be untied not cut as this was unlucky. The baci is kept intact for three days, after which the flowers are thrown away.
Also on new years day the releasing of captive animals is performed as they believed this would bring good fortune to those who let the captive animals go. They might build a cage for the animals so as they can come back if they so wish to.
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