Phnom Penh – The Khmer New Year is one of the major celebrations in Cambodian culture. This is a happy time when the radio plays Khmer traditional music for special ceremonies, and farmers enjoy the fruits of their harvest and relax before the rainy season begins.
The New Year is based on the lunar calendar, and is celebrated in mid-April, which is the first month of the year in Cambodia. An astrologer determines the exact date upon which the celebration will be held. This time of year also represents the end of the harvest, and before the Khmer New Year the farmers harvest their rice crop and people clean their houses.
The celebration lasts for three days. During this time, several people take work off to commemorate the New Year. They spend time visiting family, relatives, and friends as well as the Buddhist temple (pagoda). The Buddhist religion plays a major role in many of the celebration’s activities.
The New Year is a celebration that is prepared long in advance. Part of this preparation includes the cleaning of houses. The people clean them thoroughly to rid them of any unclean spirits. They also buy silk to make new clothes. The men and boys wear black pants with white rounded-neck shirts, while the women and girls wear skirts with colorful, decorated robes. The clean house and new clothes represent a new beginning.
The celebration lasts for three days. Each day has a name and its own activities. Day one is called Maha Sangkran. It is the entry into the New Year, signaled by the drum or bell of the Buddhist temples. With the sounding, it is believed that the New Angel arrives. All through the day, the people participate in ceremonies and Khmer traditional games. One of these activities is the building of a small sand “mountain”. Each piece of sand that is added is believed to produce more health and happiness in people’s lives. The people bring food for the monks and pray with them. There is a feast of traditional foods such as Khmer peanut curries, noodles and tree mushrooms. In the morning of the first day, the older people take food, cakes, incense, candles, and flowers to the pagoda and pray for their ancestors. The young people don’t have to go along with their parents. They can enjoy Khmer popular games at home. In the afternoon, people return to the pagoda, pray with the monks and listen to monks’ advice as well as Khmer traditional music. In the evening, old people listen to the advice of the monks at the pagoda while young people enjoy playing Khmer traditional games. Young girls and boys dance together – some dance in the pagoda area, and some dance at home.
The second day is Vana Bat. It is a time for more prayers. This day is a day to show consideration to elders. Parents, grandparents, and teachers are given gifts from children out of respect. It is also a time to serve. Cambodian people offer charity to the less fortune, participate in service activities and forgive others of misdeeds that may have been done to them. The people continue to add to their sand mountain. On this second day, people also continue with the same celebrations as on the first day.
The third day is called Loeung Sak. On this day, the monks bless the Sand Mountain. This is also the day for the cleansing of the Buddha statues. In the morning of the third day, people continue to attend the pagoda, and in the afternoon there is an important ceremony. The monks say special prayers and throw water over the people. Then the monks and people wash the Buddha statues. It is thought to be a kind deed that will bring good luck, long life, cheer, and happiness. The bathing also symbolizes hope for sufficient rainfall for the rice harvest. First the monks pour plenty of water over the Buddha statues, and then the people do the same. They clean the statues very carefully with clean, perfumed water. In the evening, young boys and girls enjoy Khmer traditional games and dance together happily.
The Khmer New Year is a time when Cambodian people remember their relatives and friends, and visit them. Cambodians also remember their ancestors and pray for them at this time. They buy candles, incense, flowers, and special foods.
The Cambodian New Year is observed in other countries, including the United States, by many Cambodian immigrants. In the United States, the celebration only lasts for two days. Many of the same ceremonies and activities are planned and participated in. This allows those who fled their country to remember their culture and share it with their children.