The first time I ever heard about Laos was from a friend who had sent me a photo of him celebrating Pi Mai – the Lao new year holiday, one of the most important Lao holidays, with his newly minted local friends. At first, I turned green with envy seeing him have so much fun while I was stuck with work commitments.
But later, as I searched more about this country and the holidays in Laos, I fell in love with the culture. Like many South Asian cultures, Laotians also celebrate and observe holidays and festivals based on the solar-lunar calendar. What are called holidays in the West, are known as festivals in the East. In Lao, a festival is called Boun (ບຸນ).
12 Religious Lao Holidays
Like many other cultures and nations, Laos also celebrates a variety of festivals throughout the year. Some of these are harvest festivals, while others are celebrated to honor the deities. One of the most exciting ones is the boat racing festival. Intrigued? Come, let us have a look at the Laos celebrations in a month-wise sequence.
Boun Pha Vet (ບຸນພະເວດ)
Celebrated sometime in January-February, Boun Pha Vet marks the birthday of Prince Vessanthara. This prince is said to be the penultimate incarnation or birth of Gautam, the Buddha (ພະພຸດທະເຈົ້າ). The recital of Jatakas, or the birth story of the Buddha, is the focal point of this festival. This is also the auspicious time when Lao men get ordained as monks.
Boun Ma Kha Bu Saar (ບຸນມາຄາບູຊາ)
Held in February, this festival marks the full moon at which the Buddha (ພະພຸດທະເຈົ້າ) laid down the first monastic regulations. The Laotians celebrate the day by chanting in the Khmer ruins of the Vat Phou temple (ວັດພູ) in the Champasak province of southern Lao. It is one of the biggest places of worship in Southeast Asia.
Boun Khoun Khao (ບຸນຄູນເຂົ້າ)
This is a harvest festival that is celebrated sometime between February and March. Its name means the heap of rice, and it is observed to feed the gods who protect the paddy fields. The offerings are made to pray for another bountiful crop the next time around.
Boun Pi Mai (ບຸນປີໃໝ່)
The words Pi Mai mean ‘new year’. Thus, this festival marks the beginning of a new Lao lunar year, in the month of April. This New Year holiday is the best time to visit Laos as the entire nation is deeply submerged in a festive fervor. Houses are cleaned, spruced, and decked up, and people take part in joyous merry-making. It is the biggest holiday of the year.
Boun Visakha Bu Saar (ບຸນວິສາຂະບູຊາ)
This festival marks the three most important occurrences in Lord Buddha’s life – his birth (in Lumbini, Nepal), his enlightenment (in Bodh Gaya, India), and his Mahaparinirvana or Parinibbana (ປາຣິນິບານາ) (in Kushinagar, India). It is the most important day across Southeast Asia and in countries like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Tibet, and such, where Buddhism is prevalent. The day is also marked by nighttime candlelight processions taken out after chanting and sermons.
Boun Bang Fai (ບຸນບັ້ງໄຟ)
This is perhaps the most fun holiday in the Lao calendar. Known as the ‘rocket festival’, the grandest of its celebrations takes place along the banks of the Mekong river (ແມ່ນ້ຳຂອງ), in the national capital Vientiane. This Lao holiday falls somewhere between May to September, in the rainy season. The celebration consists of firing up homemade rockets to pray for a good rainy season.
Boun Haw Khao Salaack (ບຸນເຮື່ອເຂົ້າສາລາ)
This is the Lao festival of honoring the ancestors. Like many other cultures, Lao people also remember and celebrate their ancestors on the 10th full moon of the lunar calendar. They do it by offering large quantities of food to the monks in the temples or Vats on behalf of their deceased ancestors.
Boun Khao Phansa (ບຸນເຂົ້າພັນສາ)
Also known as the Buddhist lent festival, Boun Khao Phansa marks the beginning of a three-month-long period of abstinence for the monks. The locals offer alms or Tak-Bat (ຕັກບາດ) to the monks early every morning. Another significant part of this holiday is the monks blessing the holy water and then pouring water on the earth.
Boun Suang Heua (ບຸນຊູ ເຮຮາ)
This is the boat racing festival – one of the most fun holidays in Laos. It takes place during the rains with the ongoing Buddhist lent period. The first major festivity takes place in Luang Prabang (ຫຼວງພະບາງ), followed by those along the banks of the Mekong River. The final and grandest of all takes place in Vientiane. The whole period is marked with great excitement as the markets get abuzz with fervor.
Boun Awk Phansa (ບຸນໂອກພັນສາ)
This festival marks the end of the three-month-long Buddhist lent period. It comes at the end of the long period of rain and is celebrated with long processions, while small floats filled with flowers, candles, and incense sticks are seen floating on the Mekong River. The whole atmosphere is very scintillating!
Boun Kathin (ບຸນກະຖິນ)
This festival takes place immediately after the end of the lent period, usually during October. Kathin is a word from the Pali language and means the wooden frame. As the lent ends and the rains subside, the monks are offered new saffron robes held in the Kathin. This festival celebrates monks by appreciating them and paying gratitude to them in the form of gift-giving – new robes, utensils, toiletries, and other daily-use items.
Boun That Luang (ທາດຫຼວງ)
This is the most significant religious festival in Laos that usually takes place in early November. The focal point of the Luang festival is the Pha That Luang Stupa (ຜາທາດຫຼວງ) – the most important temple in the cultural history of Laos. The Luang festival lasts for a period of three to seven days.
This festival is a national holiday that celebrates the Pha That Luang Stupa and its historical and cultural significance. In other words, this public holiday celebrates the essence of being a Laotian itself. For at least three days, Vientiane remains abuzz with festivities as people from all corners of the country throng the national capital to enjoy the festival.
Want To Learn Lao? Do Try Ling
Phew, what an exhaustive list of holidays in Laos! These were some of the religious holidays celebrated in Laos. You can read about the public holidays in this article. Going further, you can even try your hand at learning many helpful expressions and phrases in Lao on Ling.
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