New Year countdown in the Kingdom of Wonder may not be your usual extravaganza of lights and sounds, with the local celebration coming in the form of incense, prayer rituals and generous feasts – all these in the peak of the hot season. IPS agent Vathanak Tim takes us through the celebration that is Khmer New Year.
Bun Chol Chhnam Thmey, also known as the Khmer New Year is celebrated nationwide in April for three days and marks the end of the harvest season and celebrates the start of a new year. Traditionally, this is the time of the year when most Khmers count themselves a year old, making this every Cambodians birthday, in a sense.
Each day has a set of activities and representation in every Cambodian household. The first day is called Sangkran, where locals bring food to the monks at the temples and receive their blessings. Sangkran is the ending of the year and the commencement of the new year. A particular custom to Sangkran is the washing of the face with holy water in the morning, chests at noon and feet in the evening. This practice bestows good luck on the person.
The second day, Wanabot, is the day when families gather and present gifts to parents, grandparents, and elders. It is also the day in which families provide charity to those less fortunate than themselves. Families attend dedication ceremonies to their ancestors at monasteries.
Lastly, on the third day is Leung Sak day, this marks an important traditional ceremony called “Pithi Srang Preah” which in Khmer means giving a holy bath to Buddha statues, monks, grandparents, parents, and elders in order to apologize for any mistakes made during the last year. By washing the people are able to wash their bad deeds away and it is also thought to bring happiness and prosperity in life.
For Cambodians, it’s not just the New Year celebration, but it’s an opportunity for families to reconnect after the annual rice harvest which the completion of coincides with the New Year. It is a very joyous time for Cambodian’s where families play games and feast on traditional foods, in particular, ‘Kralan’ which is a cake made from steamed rice, beans, grated coconut and coconut milk roasted in a bamboo stick and roasted. It’s delicious!
If you happen to be in Siem Reap, this is a good time to join the local celebrations within Angkor Wat, Bayon temple, and the Elephant Terrace. Prepare for a lot of dancing, trade fairs, and traditional games. In Phnom Penh, expect side road parties and fireworks. Flanking Sothearos Boulevard, Wat Botum Park would be the place for traditional games and activities.
Khmer New Year is a good time to go and check out the countryside, or join the local celebration almost anywhere in the city! Susaday Chhnam Thmei!