The Traditions of Moving into a New House

The Laotians and Thais have a tradition and ritual that we perform before moving into a new house, as some younger generation no longer practice this, especially those living abroad mainly because they don’t know the tradition. Since I grew up in Laos and Thailand, I really can’t tell which tradition this is, or we both share the same tradition.

The first thing, I was brought up to believe that every place, or land have ghost spirits, and this is called Animism, belief in spirits which coexists with Buddhism, and that spirits are believed to inhabit almost everything, and they can help or harm us. It is believed that ancestor spirits and the local guardian spirits should be informed of any major changes in a person’s life such as sickness, a move, or a marriage.  So belief in spirits is very common amongst Lao and Thai people, and one of my favorite ghost stories that was told to me when I was little was the ghost of the banana grove, this is a beautiful female ghost called Tani, and she was given this name because she lives in Tani banana grove. If my imagination served me right, I think this is what she looks like.

Okay, so I choose a drawing by alif_ichi, and to my right is a picture of Miss Thailand from his photostream, I thought her outfit sort of looks like the traditional outfit that is worn by Pee Tani (Tani ghost), it’s been so long since I’ve seen one in a movie, so I vaguely remembered what the outfit looks like (I hope my selection of these 2 photos will not offend anyone, if you’ve a different version, please link me to the photo that you have in mind, thanks in advance). So I side track a bit, I actually want to write about Pee Tani (Tani ghost), I find her to be one of the most fascinating ghosts, but I have so little information about her and might need to do more research.

Back to moving into a new house, it is our custom to let the spirits know that you’re moving into this new house, and ask for protection, and the ceremony is called ‘Sen Wai Jour Teen’, which means asking the ‘Lord of the Land’ and any restless ghosts and spirits in the vicinity for protection. The ceremony consists of offering of food and water (optional), flowers and incense sticks are offered so the ghost will not make trouble and the ‘Lord of the Land’ will bring good luck to the family. This should be done first thing before moving in.

Another ritual is done around 10 AM, this is a ritual that you officially move into a new home, and you need to bring with you three items, rice, water, and knife. The rice and water, so that there will be plentiful and the owners will live in prosperity, and the knife is to protect the family from any evil spirits. Some would also choose to have a Buddha house blessing ceremony, this is a personal choice and not necessary by most, mainly it’s not very convenient because you would have to invite all family and friends, and your new home might not be ready to host such event, most would do this when they are ready, usually a year later.

This is our beliefs, might be strange to some but it does bring comfort to us after performing such ceremony. Then I found out that we’re not the only one that is doing this, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, others are doing it as well. While there may be many customs worldwide associated with housewarming, the most familiar one is that of bringing three items: salt to ensure that life in the new home will always have flavor; bread, so that the homeowners will never go hungry; and wine, so that joy and prosperity will reign forever. The tradition of bringing these three items undoubtedly stems from pre-Christian lore and beliefs, but continues in many parts of the world today.

So we bring rice, water, and knife into our new house, and the Westerners bring salt, bread, and wine.  Interesting.

19 thoughts on “The Traditions of Moving into a New House

  1. I just moved into a new house and this is exactly what my mom did for me. I love Lao tradiotions; it’s so beautiful, mysterious, and intriguing. As always, your blog is very fun and insightful to read.

    Take care.

  2. lady0fdarkness, thanks for your kind word. I was helping my older sister moved yesterday and they didn’t have anything ready, they didn’t know about the rice, water and knife, and this made me to think that many young Laotians don’t know as well. It is very interesting tradition indeed.

    This is not just for a new house, you can also do this when moving into a new apartment.

  3. In our traiditon in the province is to bring a small amount of rice, salt, water and candles. Many Filipinos have traditions in many diff ways, but that’s the only thing I can remember everytime I moved flats to another in HK. Mom said, it will shooo away bad spirits and give you a good life, sort of like good blessings inside your home.

  4. K, that’s interesting, a cross between our tradition and the westerners. I heard from my co-worker that her grandmother would throw salt over her shoulder before each meal, she is not sure why, I guess some sort of blessing, then I found some interesting read:

    Throwing salt over your shoulder is akin to blessing someone after they’ve sneezed — it’s a way of keeping the devil at bay while you’re in an especially vulnerable moment. Depending on your interpretation, the salt is either intended to blind the devil so he can’t witness your error, or keep him from sneaking up on you while you’re cleaning up your mess.

    It’s important to note that the superstition calls for the offender to throw salt over the left shoulder. As one web site notes, many ancient traditions place the devil to the left of the straight and narrow path. The classic image of a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other often shows the sinister imp sitting on the left side.

  5. I am not too sure about us Hmong People, but I do know that we throw corn kernel all over the house to be rid of the bad spirits and to protect the house and the people moving into the house, this is only needed when moving into a older house.

  6. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Laos: Rituals of moving into a new house

  7. It’s great that you still honor the ancestors by writing about these traditions. I know for a fact that spirits exist and that communication with them in the form of rituals makes life much easier. Westerners and those that follow their 3D thinking are in so much trouble because they live one dimensional not multi dimensional.

  8. mozemoua, thanks for sharing about your culture, I’ve learned so much from you, throwing corn kernels is very interesting, I need to try this if I were ever to move into an older home.

    Hi Yamile, thanks for the visit. Many of us still practice, but the ceremonies are mostly prepared by our parents and the younger generations don’t understand the reasons behind most of these rituals. I think when we don’t understand certain tradition, we’ve the tendency to shy away from it and I hope that this post will make us (Lao or Thais) aware of the reasons as to why we’re doing it.

  9. ^___-” I remember we first moved into our house we did the same lol but our elders told us “DO NOT MOVE ANYTHING INTO THE HOUSE UNTIL” Tueng Luerk Yarm or the right time -.-” Or it will be bad luck …

    Thanks for sharing the post it’s what makes me proud to be a South East Asian

  10. Hi Tinah, thanks for the visit. It appears that good timing is around 10-12 AM, made me think that’s the time that the monks perform any ‘sirimoungkhoun’ (good luck) ceremony also, right before their meal. Afternoon would consider bad because it’s the hours that’s associated with taking the dead to the cemetery. I’m not sure about nighttime, I guess party time. 🙂

  11. Nye,

    I did all those stuffs you mentioned above. My mom called back to Laos and ask my grandpa for good date and time to move it. He told my mom that I can’t be doing any work such as rip out the floor, hammering the nail, and majority of construction work during the month of February. As much as I want to start the renovation work, I didn’t want to go against the grain. In case if something ever happen then I’ll regret it.

    I never question the practice of this particular believes. As mom always remind us when we are traveling to places. Always said a few kind words and ask for permission to sleep. I still do it til these days:-)

    I guess I’m an old timer now? hahhahahha

    It is good to know that some laotians out there are carrying on the traditions.

    • seeharhed, I think it’s something worth believing if you’re Lao or Thai and even if you’re a nonbeliever. When we were living in NYC, we had our cousins visiting us from Canada and they had their baby with them. My mom forgot to tell the high being ‘Jao Tee Jao Tang’ and the baby cried half of the night, normally the baby seldom cry and when my mom went out there with flowers, candles and incense sticks to tell Jao Tee Jao Tang (to her it was her mother or our grandmother, apparently her ghost was very strong, she was Phou Thai, must have gotten upset that we didn’t inform her) and as soon as she did that, the baby instantly stopped.

      Another time was at my third sister’s engagement day, again she didn’t do the ceremony, and my sister had a bad stomachache as if someone was twisting it, and when my mom did the ceremony, it went away instantly. There were other incidents that made me a believer.

  12. What I like the most about this post is the overall feeling of gratitude extended to all that have come before. It makes perfect sense to have respect for their energy, as they all had dreams and goals and trials in their lives as well. Thank you Nye Noona for showing us such a beautiful tradition. Your culture is the most loving and caring I’ve ever seen and the results are always so very evident in the smiles of your family, and the joy that your children bring to your heart. And of course, your energy extends to your love of plants and growing things too. The gardens of your family are always so beautiful. Clearly we have much to learn from you! Thanks again for making my afternoon full of gratitude for all that we have. They must be very beautiful places to live and grow up, your Thailand and Laos. I find China just so mysterious!

    • Hi Cissy, thank you for reading this post, there is a saying that life is what you make of it, and I have to say that life is full of mystery and beauty. I like your interpretation and the feeling of gratitude that you take from this post. We all have so much to learn from each other, and I know I’ve learned a lot from reading your blog posts. The Spring comes early for us, so it should be panting season soon.

      • Today I planted some Snap Peas, some Cilantro and some regular sized tomatoes. Germinating, and fussing over them like an anxious mom! haha I always resonate with your writing, love your pics and will try to be more regular coming around! Take care and have a great evening! Love, your friend, Cissy

        • Cissy, it’s perfect weather to plant Cilantro, I might have to wait 2 weeks before I could plant early Spring vegetables. I have been slacking in blogging also, and hope to blog on a regular basis now. I hope you have a good night, and enjoy your weekend.

  13. Hi i am moving into a new house this week, Normally my mom would do the pre-move in ceremony. My mom was Thai and passed away last year so it’s up to me now before me and my grandmother move in. What exactly would I say? Something like this?

    “We ask permission to move into this house from the Lord of the Land and any ghost and restless spirits. We also ask that you protect us and bring us good luck.”

    It sounds much better in Thai but my Thai is so rusty I can’t remember all of the words so I have to say it in English.

    • Hi Noom, sorry to hear about your mom. My mom did the ceremony for us, and she passed away several years back, and from what I recalled she asked for permission to live and share the house with the spirits, and for the lord of the land to protect us. It sounds spooky, but I have not met the spirits that I share house with yet. I wish you best of luck in your new home. 🙂

  14. It’s my first time to learn about these customs but I’m a Christian so we didn’t observe all these practices , perhaps I’ll consult the prists or pastors . Anyway, its good to learn or know others beliefs Thank you

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