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|Lao Festivals, Ceremonies & Holidays - January/February|
Chinese and Vietnamese, New Year
These New Year celebrations have many traditional customs and ceremonies in common.
On the last days of the old year everyone busily prepares sweets, moon cakes, meats, khao tom, a very large dish made of yellow beans, pork and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and boiled in huge boilers over an open fire.
During this time, if you are downtown around Chinatown, i.e., Chau Anou Street, you can see tomatoes and other fruits and coconut being prepared as holiday treats. You will also see great streetside boilers with open wood fires burning furiously underneath them boiling the khao tom. These large, heavy food items are prepared for home consumption and presents. We tasted some in the Staff Room today.
On the last day of the year, February 8, families remember their ancestors by praying for them and making offerings of a whole roasted or boiled pig, duck, chicken, or turkey, fruit and sweets. They also burn special paper money and paper clothes. People believe the deceased use the money and clothes in the afterlife and that they bring them good luck. Some people use peacock feathers to decorate small shrines in their houses. People use the shrines to pray to the gods daily and they redecorate the shrines every New Year. Many families will visit their relatives and give the children angpao, red money envelopes. It is the day to say goodbye to the old year.
On the first day of the New Year, February 9, people party and visit friends. It traditionally begins with Chinese lion performances. The elders and people from around Vientiane meet at the Chinese Association in Ban Savang near the Circus at 7:00 am. A parade follows from there to the Chinese Embassy. The parade goes from the Association to Thong Khan Kham Road. Then it turns right on Khun Boulom and then left on Setthathirath. It goes straight down to Km 3 on Thadeua Road and turns left after the Australian Club in order to reach the Chinese Embassy by 8 am. If you live in the area, you will hear the drums and symbols. Those with a red invitation card hanging outside the front of their house, of any nationality, will attract the attention of the parade, which will stop and make a small ceremony offering wishes of good fortune for the future.
The Chinese Association goes to every Chinese shop and house around Vientiane, and other places in Vientiane on invitation, including VIS, to dance, offer good fortune, and get contributions to the Chinese Association. It takes about four to ten days to get around to everybody.
On this second day, February 10, angpao are given to the children. No one works. Shops are closed. People party.
On the third day, February 11, the Chinese stay home. It is a bad day to go out, similar to Friday the 13 th . Chinese do not visit each other on this day. However, other people, Lao and other foreigners, may visit them.
New Year's is a time of heavy drinking. It starts before the first day and continues for about ten days. There is a lot of drunk driving and it is a very dangerous time to be on the road, day or night. It is not just the drivers coming towards you that you must be wary of. Watch your rearview mirror for weaving vehicles.
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© VIS & Bruce Knox 2005 - This site was most recently updated on June 8 , 2006 by Bruce Knox