April 13th – 15th
The delight among elders can be seen many weeks in advance. Parents bring home rich fruits, baked goods and thick cuts of meat for the New Year. Children smile in glee as they munch on their favorite desserts and conjure up strategies for the next game. The elders walk to the temples in their little silver pots and pans to offer the monks. This isn’t just another celebration, this is Cambodian New Year! A time when people of all ages, young and old, come together to celebrate the memories of their beloved ancestors and the pride of their culture.
The Cambodian New Year is observed in other countries, including the United States, by many Cambodian immigrants. Many of the same ceremonies and activities are planned for and participated in. This allows for those who fled their country to remember their culture and share it with their children. The Cambodian New Year is one of the major celebrations in the Cambodian culture. It is based on the lunar calendar, and is celebrated in mid-April, which is the first month of the year in Cambodia. This time of year also represents the end of the harvest. It is a time for farmers to enjoy the fruits of their harvest and relax before the rainy season begins.
In preparation for this momentous event, the people clean and decorate their houses, as well as set up an altar to welcome the New Year Spirit Tevada Chhnam Thmey. He is said to come down to earth at this time to celebrate with the Cambodian people. A statue of the Buddha is put on the altar, also flowers, candles, incense, a bowl of scented water, food and drink, and banana leaves shaped into different figures.
Why does it last for three whole days? Each day has significance. Day one is also known as “Maha Sahgkrant” and involves the people visiting their local monastery and offering food to the monks. A special sand mound is built in the grounds of the monasteries on this day. The mound is decorated with five religious flags, one on top of the mound and four around the sides.
The second day is referred to as “Vana Bat” and on this day, people gather with their families to wish each other a happy New Year and exchange gifts. They might also visit the monastery again to ask the monks to say a special prayer for their ancestors. 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. Cambodians offer charity to the less fortunate, 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.
“Loeung Sack” is the third day which involves washing the Buddha statues in homes and monasteries. Children wash the feet of their parents as a sign of respect on this day as well. The people wash their statues with perfumed water. It is thought to be a kind deed that will bring good luck, long life, and happiness. Special games such as the Tug-Of-War, Angkunh and Boh Choong are played at the monasteries, gatherings and homes on each day of the festival. Throughout the first day of Cambodian New Year the people participate in ceremonies and games.
The beauty of the Cambodian culture is remembered during this time every year. The joy and pride in the eyes of our children tell more stories then anything else imaginable. Many times, people of all ages have displayed remarkable pride and strive for perseverance of this beautiful and rich culture. Through culture shows, expeditions, gatherings, and unity games the Cambodian people are able to celebrate amongst their family and friends. They are able to remember how wonderful it is to work together and preserve the Cambodian culture. Cambodian New Year is a time where individuals of all ages share the heritage and love of Cambodia.