Cambodian New Year is celebrated for three days. New Year in Cambodia represents the end of the harvesting season. According to the Gregorian Calendar, it falls on April 13th or 14th. For this year, it falls on 14th April.
I made this design by hand. Look nice? lolz
Khmer New Year Traditions
People visit temples to get blessings from monks and priests. They build a sand hill on the temple grounds and decorate it with five religious flags one on the top and four around the sides. This sand hill represents Buddha’s five disciples. After performing all rituals and customs to welcome the New Year, it’s time to have some fun. Some physical activities become part of New Year celebrations. Popular games played include Chol Chhuong, Chab Kon Kleng, Bos Angkunh, Leak Kanseng, Teanh Prot and so on. There are also some other new games which are now not recognized in the Cambodian society such as the powder throwing, water splashing, etc.
Khmer New Year Celebrations
New Year in Cambodia is celebrated by performing various rituals and playing number of games. Khmer New Year is celebrated for the period of three days and because this is the official New Year of the kingdom, every office of government and most private sectors and civil society is completely closed for this period except some private institutions such as hotels which need to accommodate people on vacation. However, everyone who is working is at least granted permission to take this important three-day holiday while some other may have up to one-week holiday. As for me, this year I had a full week holiday and following are some of the activities I did within this holiday:
I was supposed to leave for my hometown on the 13th as my sister proposed, yet the plan changed as she just told me late evening of 12th that she wanted to go on her own. Then I decided to go that evening. I left Phnom Penh at around 5:40PM alone with my fancy dirt bike and helmet. It was a cool journey in the evening but it seemed a bit dangerous as we couldn’t see clearly. Anyway, I was lucky to catch up the ferry without delay. I got home safely at around 8:00PM. After arriving for a few minutes, I took a bath and had dinner and talked to my parents. Then it was time to sleep. I had a day prior to the celebration of Khmer New Year free to go around. Then I got to the market to buy a new volleyball and relevant stuff. In late afternoon, I just played volleyball with some young in my village.
First Day Celebrations – Moha Sangkran
The first day of the New Year is called Moha Sangkran. It is believed that on this day Devada (angel) (there are seven angels to take turn to come to the earth depending on the day it falls) comes to earth to take care of her people. This year, she was coming at 7:30am. Her name is Mundea Devi. To welcome this holy angel, people clean and light up their houses. In the evening of the New Year’s Eve, I was preparing and decorating my house ready for the reception in the morning. We placed an idol of Lord Buddha on table with flowers, candles, incense sticks, a bowl of scented water, eatables, drinks and so on. In my decoration, I used BE (BE2554) instead of AD (2010) as I wanted it to sound and look Khmer not universal because we have a lot of New Years in Cambodia nowadays.
After new Devada reception, I just resumed helping my parents selling their groceries and did some visit to my relatives and in the evening I played volleyball with the young in my village. I enjoyed it.
Second Day Celebrations -Virak Vanabot
On the second day of Khmer New Year celebrations, people offer charity and alms to the poor. It is also considered good to present gifts to family members and relatives. At some official places, employees get gifts and other monetary incentives. My younger sister also did this. She bought clothes for the elderly (relatives only). This year, I didn’t do it as I was not wealthy due to a lot of promotions before the New Year. Also, on that day, we took a bath for my parents though not all their children were there together. We still did it as we used to do every year. This year my oldest brother and his family were not here as they had already left for Australia (My brother does his MA there, so his wife and daughters also accompany). Also, my youngest sister could not join as she had to come back to work. However, at least she could join us for two days prior to this event. All in all, there were my elder sister and her husband and children, my younger sister and me, who did this traditional activity. Then, we invited some monks to have a blessing ceremony with other relatives.
For me, nothing was renewed. After having done all these important things, in the late afternoon, I prepared some games for little children and many people joined and enjoyed this. Then, I just resumed playing volleyball. In the evening, we also had a dancing party and I also shared some money but I did not join the dance as I felt exhausted after playing and doing a lot of things the whole day.
Third Day Celebrations – Leung Sakk
On the third day of New Year celebrations people wash all the idols of Lord Buddha with scented water. It is said this ensures good rains all year long. Children pay respect to their elders by washing their feet and get blessings in return (I did this on the second day as I mentioned in the previous part since some had to leave). This ceremony of giving a special bath to Buddha statues, monks and elderly is called Pithi Srang Preah. However, for Pithi Srang Preah, I could do only for my parents because I had to leave for the provincial town after offering some food to the monks in the morning and it was the end of my visit to my hometown.
I left my parents at around 9:00am, and arrived at the provincial town at around 10:30am. Then I joined a trip with my elder sister and her family to visit my relatives in Kampong Cham province, where we enjoyed eating newly caught fish (raised fish). They tested nice. After eating and drinking for some time, we went swimming. It was cool and fresh. Then we went back to Prey Veng provincial town and we had soup. It was also cool in the town as there was rain in the afternoon.
I woke up in the morning, had some breakfast with my sister’s family members and left for Phnom Penh. On the way back to Phnom Penh, I faced some problems because my dirt bike just ran out of gas unexpectedly. At first, I was thinking my bike was stuck due to any serious engine error, yet I soon discovered it was caused by gas running out. Then I just switched it to the reserved. The reason was because I misjudged that the gas I filled from my home was enough for the distance from my hometown to Phnom Penh, but I forgot that I had to visit the provincial town. Oh my Lord Buddha! I felt very uncomfortable because I had only little money left after having spent a deal recklessly before and during my visit. Anyway, I refilled the gas with my little money which was just enough to arrive safely in Phnom Penh and that was the END of my New Year Holiday.
This year, I noticed that many traditional games are not played and it even seemed quiet on the road. As Chinese New Year and other western events become more popular, Khmer New Year is gradually going down. It is true that almost all Cambodians visit their hometowns, yet it does not mean that they really enjoy it. They are not working because they are on official holiday. This event, as I can see, becomes less and less celebrated. Compared to the Chinese New Year, Khmer New Year seems less interesting to many Cambodians. Mostly the city people just enjoy celebrating Chinese New Year than they do for Khmer New Year. Though it seems quiet in the city while people are visiting their hometown, it doesn’t mean that people really enjoy it. Some people just go and sit killing their time. Unlike, Chinese New Year, they all enjoy it. This is only my personal notice of the to-be declining Khmer New Year. I think this decline of the popularity of the Khmer New year is also caused by the overwhelming of the other new years preceding it. If the Chinese New year is to be made official, then there will be nothing to say for Khmer New Year. If you don’t believe my personal observation, you can ask some of your friends. Then some of them may just say “nothing to do, just stay at home”. For the rich, they may have their holiday abroad.
Well, let me just stop here and I hope that the Chinese do not get angry with me as I have only one New Year which seems so quiet. This is only my personal view and it is not called racial discrimination. I just want to draw attention from the public.