Pii May Lao or Lao New Year
The Lao people celebrate their New Year, Pii May (pronounced
Pii-My) or Kut Songkaan according to the ancient Hindu
calendar, which falls around April 13, 14, or 15 in the Gregorian calendar.
The celebration is considered to be the most important and biggest
traditional festival in the country. The festival coincides with the end of
the dry season and the start of the monsoon season. It is seen as a day of
rebirth and purification.
According to a Lao legend, the Pii May celebration started after
Thao Kabinlaphrom lost his life in a bet to a man named Thammaban
Khuman. Thao Kabinlaphrom was not able to solve a three-part riddle. Per
his request, his seven daughters (representing each day of the week) took
great care not to let his severed head touch the ground or there would be
great destruction throughout the world. The head was kept at Mt. Sumeru
until Pii May of each year when each daughter would take turns cleansing
it. Today, this story is reenacted during the Lao New Year celebration. The
community chooses one female to represent Nang Sangkhan one of the seven
sisters, to lead a procession or parade while showcasing a replica of Thao
Kabinlaphrom on a ceremonial tray called Khan.
Pii May Lao is a three‐day event. The first day is called
Sangkhan Luang ( ສງັ ຂານລວ່ ງ ) or the last day of the old year.
This is the day when people clean their houses in preparation for the New
Year. On this day, people earn merit and blessings by building mounds of
sand, usually on the river banks and temple grounds, which are then
decorated with small triangular flags, flowers, money and candles. This day
falls on Sunday April 13th in 2014.
The second day is called Sangkhan Nao ( ສງັ ຂານເນົາ ), which is
the day between the old and the New Year (This day is considered neither to
be part of the old year or the New Year). Sangkhan Nao is also
known as the day of rest, which means all work is forbidden. Only fun
actvites should take place such as visitng relatives and friends, taking a
day trip or the customary throwing of water on friends and passersby. At
night time, there is usually a Lamvong ( ລາໍ ວງົ ) or circle
dancing party and everyone dresses their best to partake in the
celebration. Plenty of food and drinks are available well into the night.
This year, Sangkhan Nao is only one day long and falls on Monday, April
The third day of the Lao New Year is called Sangkhan Kheun Pii
May ( ສງັ ຂານຂນຶ້ ປີໃໝ ່ ). It is the start of the New Year and is the
most joyous day of the festival. People go to the temple and make offerings
to gain merit. Young people prepare scented water with flowers and visit
their grandparents, parents, and elders. They rinse the elders’ hands with
the water and ask for their blessings and forgiveness for any wrong‐doings
in the past year. At home they engage in a special family ceremony called
the Suukhwan ( ສຂູ່ ວນັ ) or Baci (ບາສ ີ ) to welcome the New Year in which
partcipants then take turns tying the blessed white strings around each
other’s wrists to wish them good luck and prosperity for the New Year. For
2014, the Lao New Year day falls on Tuesday, April 15th..
Writen by Vinya Sysamouth, Ph.D.