Laos celebrates many annual festivals (called “Boun”) which are particularly beautiful. Boun Khao Salak is a Buddhist festival held annually during the 10th full moon of the lunar calendar (this year on 16 September) at local temples nationwide to celebrate and remember the dead.
Boun Khao Salak, or the celebration of the dead, is followed by Boun Hor Khao Phadapdin for 15 days (the waning moon) when the offerings to the monks are smaller than during Boun Khao Salak.
During Boun Khao Salak, people go to temples with offerings of food, fruit, and other things along with papers about ancestors that will be read publicly. This is a day of great importance to followers of Buddhism and most visit the temples early in the morning.
Preparations of the offerings often begin around 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning.
Offerings may include Khaotoum (boiled sticky rice with banana covered by banana leaves), fruit, flowers, candles, incense sticks, rice, dried meat, dried fish, sauces and fish paste, puffed rice, bananas, galangal, lemongrass, sugar cane, eggplants, tamarinds, hardwood tree fruit (Mak Kheng), water chestnuts, (Mak Jab), guava, jujube, chilies, cigarettes, areca and betel nuts. The offerings are then brought to monks at local temples who will then draw lots (Salak), or a lottery gift basket.
Some families prepare bowls of favorite foods of the local area called Pha Khao Thip that may contain various dishes including fish soup, chicken soup, papaya salad, meat or fish (lap), vegetables, dried fish, fried chicken, bamboo soup or chili sauce. The offerings are brought to the monks to enjoy for breakfast (Jang Han).
It is especially important to give offerings in this way for family members who have died that year. To miss these familial duties for the dead may have disastrous consequences. If the spirit does not receive the offerings, it will bring bad luck to the living. However, if the spirit receives the offerings, they will reborn in good condition.
After finishing the offerings to the monks, laymen and laywomen listen to sermons from the monks that will remind them to engage in good activities – speak good words, think good thoughts, don’t drink alcohol and don’t tell lies.
The laymen and laywomen then pour water on the ground to give merit to deceased ancestors.
At the evening around 7 or 8 pm, ladies and gentlemen, both young and old, together go to the local temple with flowers, candles, and incense sticks and pray to Buddha. They then receive wishes and hold a candlelight procession, circling the main sanctuary three times, a ceremony which is especially popular among teenagers and young adults.