FEATURE: Celebrating the New Year with a Lao flavour

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Much like other countries, people in Laos welcomed the New Year with colourful celebrations but in most places these followed age old traditions.

Families and friends stepped out to celebrate the day by going to places with special meaning or taking part in fun activities, as well as visiting a temple.

One group went to a suburb of Vientiane to start the New Year with traditional activities. They gathered in a landscaped garden in Sangxay village, Pakngum district, about 40km from the city centre.

Escaping from the many parties being thrown across the city, this group decided to go traditional and make merit by giving alms, food and other offerings to monks and novices and taking part in a Baci ceremony to bestow good wishes on each other.

Almsgiving and Baci ceremonies are rituals that have taken place in Laos for generations and are a popular way to mark special occasions and ensure good fortune for the participants.

During the evening, this particular group helped each other prepare food and offerings which would be presented to monks. At night, they slept in a tent which was also special as it was in a natural environment and out in the fresh air.

The following morning they gave offerings to more than 20 monks and novices. This was followed by the Baci ceremony in which everyone tied strings around each other’s wrists, wishing other celebrants happiness, good luck and success in the coming year.

This was indeed a memorable and unusual way to celebrate the New Year, in the peaceful surroundings of a beautiful garden away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Without exception, everyone greatly enjoyed the event and the shared activities. After the rituals they joyfully ate and drank together and of course wished each other a Happy New Year.

Mr Phoumaly, who owns and created the garden and whose family hosted the event, said “My friends and I have gathered to organise various activities to mark the New Year in a traditional way to help preserve our culture.”

“I am delighted to host this event and make merit with my family and friends. It is important to celebrate the New Year in a traditional way so that Lao customs are maintained.”

Mr Sengphet, a resident of Vientiane, said he was happy to take part in the event along with his family and friends.

“I am here with my family, who are really enjoying this because we can take part in rituals and ceremonies together.”

“Like everyone else, I am eagerly looking forward to the New Year and of course I wish good fortune for everyone in 2020.”

“It’s good that some people have chosen to celebrate the New Year this way and to make merit instead of going to parties. I think this is the best way to start the New Year.”

“By holding these kinds of activities we are helping to perpetuate our traditions. Almsgiving and Baci ceremonies are an intrinsic part of our culture and we should continue to practice them for as long as possible,” he added.