Most families in Laos are involved in farming. Members of households work the land together, with a division of labour by gender. In wet rice cultivation, men plow and prepare the seedbed, control water flow to the fields, and thresh the crop. Women transplant the seedlings, weed the fields, and carry the sheaves of rice to the threshing place. In upland rice cultivation, men cut and clear the swiddens, while women do the sowing and weeding. Wet rice cultivation begins with the onset of the rains in April or May and ends with the harvest in October and November. In upland areas, fields are burned and cleared at the end of the dry season in February and March, and harvesting takes place in November. Cultivation of secondary crops is interspersed with rice cultivation; gardening on river banks, for example, follows the drop in water level at the end of the dry season.
In addition to strictly agricultural activities, the daily lives of rural people involve a number of other tasks, such as fetching water from wells, hunting for game, and gathering various forest products. Common forest products include small game, birds and eggs, fruit, honey, spices, medicines, resins, latexes, dyes, and wood for fuel and for making charcoal, as well as structural materials such as rattan, bamboo, wooden poles, and various fibres. The important tasks of gathering and processing of forest products are associated with women.
The ethnic Lao ritual of the baci, in which strings are tied around a person’s wrist to preserve good luck, has indeed been elevated in Laos to the place of a national custom. The baci is associated with transitions, namely, giving birth, getting married, entering the monkhood, going away, returning, beginning a new year, and welcoming or bidding farewell to foreign guests. The practice has retained an important place in state ceremonies of all kinds. A prominent ritual among the upland Hmong is the sacrifice of a chicken or pig to the household spirit at the new year.
The Laotian government observes a number of holidays that are generally secular in nature. Among these are New Year’s Day (January 1), Pathet Laos Day (January 6), Lao New Year (April 13–15), Liberation Day (August 23), Freedom from the French Day (October 12), and National Day (December 2). The three-day Lao New Year celebration in Louangphrabang takes place with much pomp and colour. A central feature of this festivity is the parading of the holy relic and palladium of the former kingdom from the Royal Palace Museum to the Wat May temple. For holidays celebrated by particular ethnic groups, leave is usually granted to those concerned, most of whom work in the capital and urban areas. The traditional holidays of the lowland rural regions revolve around the Buddhist temples and the agricultural cycle; these calendars operate beyond the reach of the state.