Let us first know why people celebrate Khmer New Year.
What could be more exciting than starting a new year with a blessed and grateful heart? The welcoming new year symbolizes new beginnings and fresh starts. Khmer New Year or Chol Chnam Thmey (បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី) is a time for family, friends, and community to gather and celebrate. It also marks the end of the harvest season when farmers take a break from work since it is the hottest and driest season of the year.
Every country has its own unique way of celebrating the New Year but in Cambodia, the richness of their culture and traditions will give you an unforgettable experience that will surely leave a priceless impact on your heart and mind.
How Do Khmer Celebrate New Year?
Now that we know the reason behind celebrating Khmer New Year, let us now discover their unique ways to celebrate it.
From various ceremonies and rituals down to colorful pagodas and delicious food, Khmer New Year is considered the greatest traditional festival in Cambodia. It follows the Gregorian calendar and is celebrated for three days starting from April 13th, but it varies annually. Before the three-day-long celebration, people clean their houses and set up altars to offer to the deities or “devodas”. Each day has its own rituals and ceremonies that will define how rich their culture is.
Day 1: Moha Songkran (មហាសង្រ្កាន្ត)
Saying goodbye to the old year opens the gate for the beginning of the new year. The first day of Khmer New year is called Moha Songkran (មហាសង្រ្កាន្ត) which means “welcoming the new angels”. People believe that on this day, a new god is appointed to protect throughout the coming year. They prepare fruits and drinks to offer to the monks at a Khmer temple to get blessed. Collective prayers take place and people bow 3 times before an image of the Buddha to pay respect. Incense and candles are burnt at home.
Not only the houses are decorated, but also the streets are full of festivity vibes. Did you know that this is the only time that both girls and boys can mingle? Temples, parks, playgrounds, or any field are full of people who are taking this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play traditional games where both girls and boys can play and get together. So if you think that it is only about religious traditions, then you are wrong.
If you are planning to join one of the traditional games, here are some samples:
Chol Chhoung (បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្)
participants try to hit each other with a cloth ball
Leak Kanseng (លាក់កន្សែង)
a popular children’s game
Chab Kon Kleng (ចាប់កូនខ្លែង)
mainly played by adults imitating a hen protecting chicks from a crow
Day 2: Virak Vanabat (វិរ:វ័នបត)
Nothing compares to the fulfillment you get from giving and thinking about the less fortunate. The second day of Khmer New year is called Virak Vanabat (វិរ:វ័នបត) which means “day of giving”. Cambodians are known for their strong family ties. On this day, people remember their parents and elders through gift-giving. Since Buddhists believe in reincarnation, they also pray and honor their departed loved ones and ancestors through a ceremony called “bang scole”. What is really priceless on this day is that they also take time to donate to the poor. It is a day dedicated to charity. See how they value their family? It’s amazing!
Day 3: Vearak Loeng Sak (វារៈឡើងស័ក)
After a long and challenging year, a day of cleansing is really needed to ensure prosperity in the coming year. The last day of Khmer New Year is called Vearak Loeng Sak (វារៈឡើងស័ក) which means “new beginnings”. On this day, people will perform the last ceremony called “Pithi Srang Preah” where they bathe statues of Buddha, their parents, and grandparents with water blessed by monks. Children wash and bathe their parents and grandparents in return for advice. In the Khmer language, they say “Srong Tek” to show respect to the Buddha and their parents. This symbolizes washing away sins. Isn’t great to start the year with a pure heart?
What Can You Eat During Khmer New Year?
After knowing their unique ways to celebrate Khmer New Year, let us now proceed to the food they usually eat during this celebration.
Celebrations and festivities will not be complete if there is no food. Of course, food will not be missed. If you come to visit Cambodia during the New Year, you should not forget to try these street foods that are a very important part of Cambodian culture.
fried egg noodles
Typical food is eaten on New year; a cake made from sticky rice, beans, and coconut milk
Where Can You Celebrate Khmer New Year?
Now that we are done discovering the food they eat, let us now explore the different places where we celebrate Khmer New Year,
If you are planning to go to Cambodia to experience the Khmer New Year, you do not have to worry about finding the best place because it is celebrated throughout the country. Tourists can experience, get involved, and feel welcomed by the festivity wherever they are.
During this time when most people spend their holidays with their families, tourists from the two largest cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap can still experience the festivity. Both cities have their own way of celebrating New Year.
It is Cambodia’s capital city but during this time, it is quiet than usual. Tourists can enjoy the peacefulness of the city. You will be amazed at the procession on the final day of the celebrations which involves elephants and horses.
If you are a party person, Siem Reap is the perfect place for you. Compared to Pnom Penh, celebrations in Siem Reap are at their peak. You can hear music everywhere, eat lots of street food, and go to iconic sites to play traditional games.
What Are Some Helpful Phrases That I Can Use In Celebrating Khmer New Year?
Now that you have reached this far, let us learn some important Khmer phrases that will help you celebrating Khmer New Year with the locals.
|ថ្ងៃចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី||Thngai Bon Chol Chnam Thmey||New year day|
|រីករាយឆ្នាំថ្មី||Suo-sday Chnam Thmey||Happy New Year|
|ជូនពរអ្នកឆ្នាំល្អ||Choun Por nak chnam lor||Wishing you a good year|
|ថ្ងៃអង្គារទី ១៤ ខែមេសា||Tngai Angkea Ti Rob Boun Khe Mesa||Tuesday, April 14|
|បញ្ចប់នៅលើ||Bon Chob Nov Tngai||End on|
|ថ្ងៃព្រហស្បតិ៍ទី ១៦ ខែមេសា||Tngai Pro-hous Ti Rob Pram Moi Khe Mesa||Thursday, April 16|
|ផ្តល់អំណោយ||Choun Am Noy||Give gift|
Whatever personality you have, there is a place for you to celebrate the Khmer New Year. If you want to know more about their culture and traditions, this is the perfect time for you. Although most people spend much time visiting temples during these days, you must get yourself ready for some serious partying because this celebration also includes street parties, concerts, and traditional games. This three-day celebration will not only give you a taste of their culture but a time to enjoy and have fun.