BREWSTER -- The Lao community members from southwest Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa ushered in the new year Saturday at the American Legion Hall with a prayer ceremony, food, fun and dance.
Chairman of the Lao Buddhist temple in Worthington, Bounlorm Soumetho explained a traditional Lao New Year, commonly known as Songkran is a three-day long April event celebrated in Laos. Thailand and Cambodia observes a similar New Year celebration, he added.
A group of older community members officiated Saturday's ceremony with a procession around the Pha Khuan -- a centerpiece pyramid-type structure made out of flowers, white thread, eggs, and topped with a lit candle.
Once seated around the centerpiece, the group, led by the master of ceremony, initiated the Basi ceremony in prayer. As the ritual ended, the master of ceremony detached the white string from the Pha Khuan, tying a few strands onto each person's wrist.
"It removes the bad luck and brings blessing to everyone," Sumetho said. "We bless the new year and the old year too."
He said a majority of Laotians are Buddhists. They worship at the Wat Lao Siri Buddharam Temple located on Oliver Avenue.
"We really appreciate our neighbors surrounding the temple being so understanding," he said.
As the evening continued, guests were provided with a wide variety of food ranging from broccoli beef, noodles, and sticky rice, to papaya salad and egg rolls.
The buffet-like spread was solely a potluck effort, said the temple president, Saksady Xaisongkham.
"We only take donations at the door," he said.
First-time attendees of the Lao New Year, Suzanne Busch and Mariel Kahnk, said they were amazed by the hospitality shown to them.
"It's really interesting and I wish I understood more," Busch said. "They've been very friendly, coming up to us to thank us for being here."
The ladies were invited by their friend Darlene Plantz. Plantz said she met several Laotians while working the former Campbell Soup company.
"The food is always awesome," she said, adding this is her third year participating in the celebration.
As entertainment, guests were treated to a traditional Lao dance. Maintaining traditions is a vital part of the Lao culture, Soumetho said.
"It's a great honor for us to present the dance to our guests," he said.
The 2012 Lao New Year celebrates the year of the dragon, one of the 12 animals in the Lao calendar.
"The dragon is a strong-powered animal, like the king of animals," Sumetho explained. "It does not destroy human -- it protects us."
Saturday's festivity concluded with a social hour followed by a party.