'A time to enjoy': Lao, Tamil and Cambodian New Year celebrations begin

People celebrate Cambodian New Year
Chenda Hing of Minnesota 8 has been volunteering as a “thevada” (Khmer Angel) for the Cambodian New Year celebrations at Watt Munisotaram in Hampton, Minn., since high school.
Courtesy Watt Munisotaram

South and Southeast Asian communities across Minnesota are celebrating the start of a new year this weekend.

Communities from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and parts of India who participate in the celebrations, which align with parts of Buddhist and Tamil calendars, will often know this time as the Lao New Year, Cambodian New Year or Tamil New Year.

“This is exactly the time where the sun is in the middle of the northern and southern hemisphere,” said Harish Venkitachallam, a volunteer at Hindu Society of Minnesota in Maple Grove. “So that’s the time we start the year.”

People celebrate Tamil New Year in a temple
People celebrate Tamil New Year with the Hindu Society of Minnesota at the Hindu Temple of Minnesota in Maple Grove in 2018.
Courtesy of Hindu Society of Minnesota

Various cultures commemorate the new year with family gatherings, cultural foods, festivals and colorful traditional clothing. According to a 2022 report from Minnesota’s Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, there are about 37,000 Cambodian, Burmese and Lao people making up about 11 percent of the state’s Asian population, while Asian Indians make up 15 percent.

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This year, the new year officially began Thursday and celebrations typically last up to three or four days. Sunny Chanthanouvong, executive director of Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota and refugee from the southern part of Laos, said Laotians usually reflect on the past year, ask for forgiveness and receive blessings at the temple for the year to come.

“It’s a time to enjoy,” said Chanthanouvong. “Families get together, visit parents and seniors. We go to the temple, get our blessing and wear nice clothes.”

Chanthanouvong said it’s common tradition during Lao New Year to eat sticky rice, papaya salad and laab, a minced meat or fish salad dish served with fresh herbs and lime.

For local Cambodians in Minnesota, the Cambodian New Year events are one of the biggest celebrations of the year. Montha Chum, executive director of Minnesota 8, which works to end detention and deportation in Southeast Asian communities, said she looks forward to the new year because it’s one of the rare times she gets to wear traditional Khmer clothing.

“It's not very often that we get to dress up and feel beautiful,” said Chum. “That's when I feel the most beautiful is when I can put on my traditional, like, cultural clothes with the vibrant colors and just feel really fierce.”

A woman in traditional clothes for Cambodian New Year
Montha Chum, founder and executive director of Minnesota 8, poses in traditional clothes at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Courtesy Montha Chum

The Hindu Temple of Minnesota in Maple Grove is expected to see around 1,000 people this Sunday at their 10th annual Tamil New Year event, which is run by the Hindu Society of Minnesota.

“We celebrate the new year with a rich cultural heritage and tradition of Tamil people and it serves as a reminder of the importance of unity, harmony and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of our life,” said Baskar Gopalan, program coordinator at Hindu Society of Minnesota.

Upcoming New Year festivals

  • Friday, Apr. 14 and Saturday, Apr. 15: Watt Munisotaram, a Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Hampton, Minn., will have festivities for their free Cambodian New Year 2023 event. Local musicians and artists will be showcased at the event.

  • Saturday, Apr. 15: A Sri Lanka New Year celebration will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Minnesota Buddhist Vihara in Minneapolis.

  • Sunday, Apr. 16: Maple Grove’s Hindu Temple of Minnesota is hosting their 10th annual Tamil New Year celebration from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The event will start with special prayers and serve traditional southern Indian foods on a banana leaf.

  • Saturday, Apr. 22: Siengkane Lao MN is hosting a Lao New Year 2023 event at Southdale Public Library in Edina, Minn. from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • Saturday, Apr. 22: The Eisenhower Community Center in Hopkins will have a one-day Bengali New Year Celebration from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event is run by the Bengali Association of Minnesota and will serve traditional foods and include cultural programs. Tickets can be bought on their website, mnbangali.org.

  • Sunday, Apr. 30: A Cambodian New Year celebration at Phoenix Hall Event Center in Lakeville, Minn. will include a fashion show, music, dancing and games. The event starts at 1 p.m. and ends at 5 p.m.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment‘s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.