The Laotian community in Toronto consists of 5,000 people who honour their heritage through cultural and religious festivals, bands and dance groups, and organized sports teams. Laos is bordered by China, Vietnam, Kampuchea, Thailand, and Burma. The native language is Lao, but many people speak French as a result of the country’s membership in the French Union up until 1954.
The Lao came to Canada in three waves of immigration. The first group arrived in the late 1960s as students who later applied for citizenship. A large group of political refugees came to Canada following the Laotian king’s abdication and a Communist government takeover in 1975. In 1980, more Laotian refugees arrived—both professionals and blue-collar workers.
The community’s most important festival is Lao New Year, usually celebrated in the spring with processions and prayers. Toronto’s Lao practice the custom of chasing away evil spirits for the New Year by cleaning their homes and sprinkling their friends with water to wash away their sins. At the Lao Buddhist Temple, images of Buddha are washed during ritual ceremonies. The Lao Association of Ontario arranges an evening of entertainment with a band, choir, and dance group, and a feast of Lao foods is served with tea.
Dates for buddhist holidays are calculated according to the lunisolar calendar. The full moon days in each month are celebrated with ceremonies.
MAKHA BOUXA, usually held in February, is a festival that calls together Buddha’s disciples before his entrance into a state of nirvana. Prayers, processions, and offerings mark the ceremony.
Ho khao padap dinh (the feast of the dead), celebrated in August, honors the dead with gifts, prayers, and thoughts.
Laotian women display traditional dresses from various regions of their country.
VIXAKHA BOUXA (ROCKET FESTIVAL), usually held in May, commemorates the birth, death, and enlightenment of Buddha.
THE BOUN PHA VET, celebrated in February or March, is a day of reading by the bonzes (Buddhist priests) of the Life of the Buddha.
KHAO VASSA (THE BEGINNING OF BUDDHIST LENT), held in July, sees the bonzes retire to their temples and recite the Patimokkha.
HO KHAO PADAP DINH (THE FEAST OF THE DEAD), celebrated in August, honours the dead with gifts, prayers, and thoughts.
HO KHAO SLAK in September is a traditional time for indulging children with toys and sweets.
OK VASSA (THE END OF BUDDHIST LENT) in October is a general rejoicing and confession of evil and careless thoughts.
THE FESTIVAL OF THE WATERS is a ceremony to drive out evil spirits. Houses are decorated with candles.
THAT LUANG FESTIVAL in November celebrates the That Luang, supposedly containing a relic of the Lord Buddha. The occasion is celebrated with processions and prayers.
LAO ASSOCIATION OF ONTARIO, (Tel. 416-398-3057; Fax 416-398-3058, 956 Wilson Ave. W). A non-profit charitable organization thatassists newcomers to integrate into the Canadian community and also promotes Lao culture and identity in Canada. The organization arranges cultural, educational, and social activities. Sports teams and a dance group belong to the association. President: Mr. Thongsouk Vongphakdy.
Contributor: Somchith Saysourinho, Executive Director, Lao Association of Ontario.