Christmas is not really celebrated in Laos. I mean, there is the odd tree up and a few decorations, but for the most part it is just another day. Somewhat coincidentally though, there are week long Winter Solstice or New Year celebrations undertaken by the Hmong and Kamu – two minority ethnic groups in Laos. Who would have thought baby Jesus would be born at just the same time most religions and cultures already have a celebration!
Anyway, the college Rachel and I work at had organised celebrations a week early (the real event takes place over 4 days from the 28th of December, although this varies year to year) and we were invited along to partake in the festivities. One of the teachers suggested Rachel should wear a traditional Hmong costume, I did my part and wore a Lao style shirt.
The first event involved a maypole like arrangement, a soon to be sacrificed rooster and everyone walking back and forth around the pole. It was pretty fun, although probably not for the rooster.
Next up were some impromptu photos, everyone was very impressed with the falung in a Hmong ‘uniform’. Many of the young women embroider their own clothes and it is not unusual to see BeerLao or Facebook patterns alongside the more traditional wares.
In the middle of the main hall were 5 large clay jars and a flagon of water. I had heard about the strange fermented beverage which was communally drunk from straws. Before I could make a quick exit I was bought over and given the ‘honour’ of drinking first with the college directors. Young girls topped the jars up with BeerLao and the straws were passed around, you were not allowed to leave until you had drunk 3 cups worth (the girls kept count by topping up the jar with water as you drunk it). I noticed the others were slyly passing the straws to friends and they made good progress. On my own, with much encouragement I finished one cup and made a dizzy break for freedom.
After the clay pots, it was a bout of crossbow shooting (loser drinks BeerLao) and a difficult Hmong spinning top game which we completely failed. There was still enough time before lunch for the Baci which is a lovely ceremony involving personal blessings and little strings tied around your wrist.
By the end of lunch, things were starting to get a bit loose so we made a discreet exit before someone asked us to join the circle dancing. The dancing tends to happen at every formal Laos party but no one seems to enjoy it, least of all the falung which inevitably get the ‘honour’ of first dance. Activities, food and drink and dancing successfully avoided. A great day!