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History of the Lao New Year

Lao New YearPii 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 14th.

 

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.