Lao New Year or “Pi Mai Lao” is a traditional Lao Buddhist holiday to celebrate the coming of a good new year. The three-day celebration usually takes place between April 13-15, or sometimes April 14-16. Every year before the coming of Lao New Year celebrations, Lao people usually clean their houses and villages to welcome the new year. Some people go to the temples to make their wishes to the monks. The monks will pray to dispel bad things from the body with the passing of the old year, and give blessings for good success and luck throughout the new year. Lao people who live in other cities or countries also use this opportunity to go back home to visit their families.
The Lao New Year celebration consists of three days. First comes the last day of the old year, called “Vanh Sang Khan Luang.” In the morning of this day, people will go to the temples for alms giving, and worship Buddha statues with flowers, incense, and candles. The Buddha statues are removed from the temple for cleaning, and everyone splashes the statues with water that has been perfumed with flowers and incense. Some people collect the water that pours down from the Buddha statues to take it home for family members and good luck. It is believed that getting a good blessing, cleaning, and purifying before entering the Lao New Year will help grant wishes for good things. Flowers that are symbols of this season are Dok Khoun (golden shower tree, Cassia fistula) and Dok Champa (frangipani, Plumeria spp.).
The second day is in neither the old year nor the new year, and is called “Vanh Nao” or “transitional day.” On this day people will pour water on the hands of parents and elders to ask forgiveness for actions from the past year that might have hurt feelings. After this, people go out to celebrate a water festival with friends, splashing water until everyone is soaked. This is a way to clean out and send away negative things with the old year – and is also a way to cope with the oppressive heat of the season!
The last day of festival is the start of the new year, called “Vanh Sung Khan Khuen,” or “New Year’s Day.” In the late afternoon on this day, Buddha statues are moved back to the temples. In the afternoon, people will also go to the temples or rivers to make sand pyramids or stupas. The sand stupas are decorated with flags and flowers, surrounded by small stones, and splashed with perfumed water. Elders will go to the temples to listen to the monks chanting and ask for forgiveness, called “Fung Thum,” or “Listen to the Buddha’s lesson.” After that, a candlelight procession takes place around the temple by circling it three times. Many families will also hold a “Basi” ceremony on this day at their house to welcome the Lao New Yew, as well as to wish elders good health and long life. During the few days of Pi Mai, many people will have small parties with friends or family to enjoy spending time together. Our U.S. staff have enjoyed the opportunity to share in this celebration, and we wish all of our Lao friends a happy Pi Mai!