Happy Khmer New Year!

Cambodian Culture, Living in Phnom Penh / Monday, April 20th, 2009

April 14-16. This is a three day celebration that marks the end of the harvest and the New Year according to the Cambodian Lunar calendar. A very festive occassion in most Cambodian houses and they also get to have a week holiday so they really throw themselves into the festivities. This is the first time for me to celebrate Khmer New Year coz for some reason I’m always not here during the past Khmer New Years so I got the chance to observe what Khmers usually do during the 3-day celebrations. This New Year celebration is so much a part of Cambodia culture and is really a happy time for everyone.

Some houses are decorated with lights and bright lanterns and on the first day a table will be set up as a shrine and this is laden with fruits, drinks, flowers etc and this shrine is maintained until the third day.  See photo below. I snapped a photo of our neighbor’s shrines since hubby’s family is Chinese-Cambodian and doesn’t have shrines like Khmers do. Markets close on the 14th and will reopen again after the 16th, so on the 13th the markets are really busy and crowded with people buying food, flowers, new clothes for the New Year.

Khmer New Year

The second day is usually spent visiting pagodas and making offerings. I am not Buddhist but I found myself accompanying my mother in law for a visit to several pagodas outside of Phnom Penh. I wanted to observe how things were done so I tagged along. We chose Buddhist temples a bit far from the city coz they are less crowded and they are more in need of these offerings. We packed several types of cooked dishes and rice and some fruits. These are first offered to the monks and prayers are also offered and incense sticks are lit as well.

After this, the food is taken to another part of the temple and rice is then distributed in different containers and once it is done, you have to wash your hands. Then the other dishes are placed in different containers and are also offered. Incense sticks are then lighted again, prayers and wishes said, bowing three times. After this, we move to another wat/pagoda to make another offering. It was definitely a very fascinating experience for me, so I withstood the scorching heat just to get a glimpse of one of the very essence of Cambodia culture, one involving faith and Buddhism.

The Wats or the Pagodas are essentially the center of the Khmer New Year celebrations. Traditional games are played and it is customary for kids and teenagers to run around throwing water at each other. A Wat we visited even has a live band performing and some parlor games set up to entertain the throngs of faithful making the journey.

After visiting and making offerings in the Pagodas, judging from the amount of traffic in the roads going out the city, most Khmers head out of town to escape from the heat, make the most of the non-working holidays and get some much needed rest and recreation. We opted to go to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s beach town, a week ago to avoid the crowds and were glad we did that. Holiday places and resorts get really awfully crowded during the Khmer New Year.

On the second day of the New Year till the weekend, Phnom Penh literally feels like a ghost town. Streets that are usually crowded during non-holidays are empty and you can actually do cartwheels along the streets without being struck by a speeding motorbike.

All in all, my first Khmer New Year is interesting,peaceful and cheery time for us. We get to have a break from work (I even forgot about blogging for a bit..) and mostly I’m glad I got a time off from cooking as my mother-in-law was just too glad to feed us 🙂 Lucky me!

Happy Khmer New Year! Good health, luck and prosperity to everyone..

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