BREWSTER -- Food and blessings were plentiful at the Lao New Year celebration this weekend at the Brewster American Legion. The event has been a draw for the Lao community in the region since its inception in 1991, and that tradition continued Saturday.

The event -- called Boun Pee Mai -- began with a Sou Khouane Ceremony led by Wiseman Thongdy Baosynthong.

"It's a ceremony to welcome the New Year; it's a goodwill ceremony for good health and good luck," explained Thongsay Chantharath, a Laos native who works at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC).

Attendees circled around Baosynthong on deeply colored floor mats, shoes removed, hands clasped in reverence. He chanted from ancient scriptures in front of a bouquet of flowers and food that was topped with a candle.

After the ceremony, attendees removed white strings from the bouquet and tied the strings around each other's wrists while holding food: eggs, bananas and clementines.

"It symbolizes good health for the spirit and soul. You offer the spirit food for you to have good wealth and good health in the year to come," Chantharath said. The strings are left on for three days for luck.

Though the younger set of participants wore more modern clothing, most adults in the group wore the traditional dress with a sash -- an important sign of respect for their heritage.

Attendees enjoyed traditional Lao food: spring rolls, fried rice, hot sauce and beef jerky, sticky rice, a type of seasoned noodle stir fry and rice-based dessert. Later, there would be live music and dance through the evening.

"It's a Lao reunion," said Van Thithavong, a Worthington resident. "They come together to say 'Hi,' 'Happy New Year' and dance."

He said the New Year is celebrated with a water fight in Laos and other Asian countries.

"They have water balloons, water guns. And it goes all day, all night," Thithavong said with a laugh. "They give you some water all the time."

The event was sponsored by NCIC, the Wat Lao Siri Buddharam Temple in Worthington, JBS, local union 1161 and others.