Today, April 13 is the start of Lao New Year a three day festival. Like many of the other New Year festivals, there are many customs related to cleansing your surroundings and of visiting others. On top of the the cleaning of the houses all images of the Buddha as also cleaned.
The festival is split with different days having different meanings and traditions associated with them. The first day is the last day of the old year when the cleaning is mostly done, the second day is the day between years when most visiting is done and the third day is the beginning of the new year itself.
In of the more well known traditions is people sprinkle on others, this is done lightly on the elderly and the monks in a sign of respect but those who are younger may have a sprinkle that is contained in a bucket. While not as manic as that of the Thailand traditions typically you may get quit wet. But if you happen to be around any of these celebrations take it as a compliment and wishes of good luck for the coming year if someone chooses to “sprinkle” water on you.
Another of the traditions is to tie a white string around the wrist of another person. The information that I found indicated this is equivalent to a greeting card in the United States though it seems to be a stronger wish of good fortune. There is a ceremony that goes with this tradition and the message is given verbally. For the good fortune to be effective you should wear the string for three days.
According to wikipedia the traditional greeting are “souksan van peemai” or “sabidee pimai”
I think I had a very good start to my Lao New Year as last night I attended a screening of Nerakhoon (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1157685/) in Nashville with the Laotian American Outreach (http://laotianamericanoutreach.org/) group in Nashville. After the film we went to a restaurant where I heard a number of stories of how many of the people could relate to the events as they were similar to their life. If you are like most people in the United States and know little about the Lao people and what they have gone through I highly suggest watching this film. I have read a number of times in different places about how friendly the Lao people are and if my experience is typical I have to agree they are one of the friendliest in the world.
So here is to wishing all a Happy Lao New Year!