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The Lao New Year begins in the fifth month of the Lao calendar based on astrological calculations. It occurs when the sun moves out of the sign of Pisces into the sign of Aries. It has been conventionally fixed on April 14. It is not until this day that the date of the year changes. This is different than in Thailand, where the year changes on January 1. This year, 2005, is 2548. Lao New Year is a national holiday and is celebrated for three days (April 14-16). However, many young people begin to celebrate 4-5 days earlier and continue for a few days afterward. On the second or third day people have a baci ceremony with or without somma.      

Somma is a ceremony to show respect to parents and grandparents. On a bowl, khan , or tray are placed five pairs of candles and five pairs of flowers. In addition, money or a gift, such as a sin or a new shirt is placed there. Then, with all the participants sitting on the floor, you tell the person(s) you are having somma. You say, "I am here to have somma. Here are some flowers and candles and a gift for you. Please forgive me for anything I may have done wrong to offend you that I don't know about."

The person receiving somma says, for example, "bo pen njang". Don't worry about anything in the past. It's forgotten. Let's look to the future. I wish all good things for you in the coming year."

Another important tradition at this time is to take your Buddha image down from its "altar" and bathing it with fragrant water. Fragrant water is prepared by adding perfume and flowers to clean water. The image(s) can stay down until the end of Lao New Year, in which case visitors to your home can also pour water on it, or it can be returned immediately to its place with new candles and fresh white flowers.

People also give each other blessings of good luck and good health by pouring a little clean water from a bowl on the back of their friend's neck. Afterwards the friends nop each other. Unfortunately, in Vientiane this practice has become corrupted into the free-for-all throwing of dirty water and/or water with dye in it. People will drive around with large containers of water and heave bucketful's at anybody they drive by, pedestrians and people riding bicycles, motorbikes or Tuk-tuks. Sometimes balloons of water or plastic bags of water with ice are also thrown. As you can imagine, this is scary and dangerous. Every year, there are many traffic fatalities due to this behavior. Nobody likes this behavior and every year people ask the government to provide greater control of this dangerous practice.

 

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VIS & Bruce Knox 2005 - This site was most recently updated on June 8 , 2006 by Bruce Knox