What to Expect in Khmer New Year 2020
In Cambodia, the first of January isn’t officially considered as a New Year for locals. Instead, they celebrate it in the mid-week of April and here’s why:
Khmer New Year or Choul Chnam Thmey literally means “entering a new year.” As the country dominantly practices Buddhism, and was influenced by Hinduism, Cambodians have come to adapt the Buddhist/Hindu calendar which are based on two astrological reasons:
- Solar calendar: based on earth’s movement around the sun
- Lunar calendar: based on the phases of the moon
Khmer New Year currently follows the solar calendar. Astrologically, it takes one year to complete the twelve zodiac signs, beginning in Aries (March 20 to April 21) until Pisces (February 19 to March 20). Each zodiac signifies one-month duration of the Sun, so as the Sun enters Aries, it marks the beginning of the Sun’s new transit cycle.
In agriculture, Khmer New Year is traditionally known as the beginning of summer season and the end of harvesting season. Since farmers cannot do any farming activities in a dry season, they consider this time as a short break from their hard work.
Nevertheless, this time of the year is very precious to all Cambodian people for they get to return to their home communities and spend time with their loved ones—for three whole days.
Sursdei Chhnam Thmei
Happy Khmer New Year
Traditionally, Cambodians would prepare and clean their home first-hand. They would set up their altars for spiritual ceremonies and offerings. At temples, the entrances are decorated by floral garlands and coconut leaves. Meanwhile, the courtyards of the temple are occupied as a place for traditional Khmer games.
There are different traditions and customs to experience this time of the year. From rituals, performances, to delicious treats and delicacies—Khmer New Year is packed with various activities and traditions.
Believed to be the day where the almighty Gods would come down and nourish the earth, Cambodians would light up their houses, offer bunch of fruits on the altar, and set up flowers, incense sticks, scented water and candles on the first day of Khmer New Year.
Similar to Thanksgiving, the second day of Khmer New Year is celebrated by exchanging gifts and presents to family members, relatives, and for some; a charity service in the impoverished areas.
Ending the Khmer New Year, the third day marks the pouring of blessings and purification from all sins. This is done by cleansing the Buddha statues, the monks and the elders with scented water.
Yet as time passed by, the locals found a fun way to do the tradition using water guns, buckets, garden hose and even fire trucks. Sounds fun? Here’s how Cambodians celebrate the Khmer New Year across the country.
Walking by the streets, prepare yourselves for a water fight as everyone would bring their water weapons and ambush ANYONE with a splash.
IN BATTAMBANG STREETS
Driving wouldn’t save you from the water fight for many locals would stay on the streets and wait for the incoming people passing by.
IN SIEM REAP
Symbolizing the blessings of the monks, the water fight is rarely accompanied by a powder chalk which you may find all over the faces of people during Khmer New Year.
Over the years, Khmer New Year has evolved as the grandest celebration in Cambodia, along with other countries following the solar calendar including Southern China, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar.
Khmer New Year 2020
This 2020, the country cannot afford to miss a part of their annual tradition, so the Cambodian Prime Minister moved the Khmer New Year from mid of April to the mid of August 2020.
Celebrating in the midst of pandemic, the Cambodian administration has advised everyone to celebrate the Khmer New Year in their homes, at the same time following the usual traditions.
Because all huge ceremonies are prohibited, families can still celebrate the Khmer New Year through small private gatherings like camping at home and preparing traditional Khmer food that every member of the family can enjoy—safe and sound.