Cambodian New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey in the Khmer language, is the name of the Cambodian holiday that celebrates the new year. The holiday lasts for three days, from April 13th to 15th, although Khmer living in other countries may change the dates so as to celebrate on the weekend. Sometimes the holiday varies and falls from the 14th to 16th. This time of year represents the end of the harvesting season. The farmers enjoy the fruits of their harvest and relax before the rainy season begins.
Maha Songkran is the name of the first day of the new year celebration. It is the ending of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up and light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines. The members of each family pay homage to offer thanks for the Buddha’s teachings by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times before his image. For good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.
Vanabat is the name of the second day of the new year celebration. People contribute charity to the less fortunate, help the poor, servants, homeless people, or some unhappy or low-income families. Families attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the monastery.
Thgnai Loeung Saka
Thgnai Loeung saka is the name of the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhists cleanse the Buddha statues and elders with perfumed water. Bathing the Buddha images is the symbol that water will be needed for all kinds of plants and lives. It is also thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and propsperity in life. By bathing their grandparents and parents, children can obtain from them best wishes and good advice for the future.
New Year Traditions
In temples, people erect a sand hillock on temple grounds. They mound up a big pointed hill of sand or dome in the center which represents Culamuni Cetiya, the stupa at Tavatimsa, where the Buddha’s hair and diadem are buried. The big stupa is surrounded by four small ones, which represent the stupas of the Buddha’s favorite disciples which are Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, and Maha Kassapa. There is another tradition, that is pouring water or plaster on someone.
Cambodia is home to a variety of games played to transform the dullest days into a memorable occasion. Throughout the Khmer New Year, street corners often are crowded with friends and families enjoying a break from routine, filling their free time dancing and playing. Typically Khmer games help maintain one’s mental and physical dexterity. The body’s blood pressure, muscle system and brain all are challenged and strengthened in the name of fun.
* 1. “Tres”
A game played by throwing and catching a ball with one hand while trying to catch an increasing number of sticks with the other hand. Usually, pens or chopsticks are used as the sticks to be caught.
* 2. “Chol Chhoung”
A game played especially on the first nightfall of the Khmer New Year by two groups of boys and girls. Ten or 20 people comprise each group, standing in two rows opposite each other. One group throws the “chhoung” to the other group. When it is caught, it will be rapidly thrown back to the first group. If someone is hit by the “chhoung,” the whole group must dance to get the “chhoung” back while the other group sings.
* 3. “Chab Kon Kleng”
A game played by imitating a hen as she protects her chicks from a crow. Adults typically play this game on the night of the first New Year’s day. Participants usually appoint a person with a strong build to play the hen leading many chicks. Another person is picked to be the crow. While both sides sing a song of bargaining, the crow tries to catch as many chicks as possible as they hide behind the hen.
* 4. “Bos Angkunh”
A game played by two groups of boys and girls. Each group throws their own “angkunh” to hit the master “angkunhs,” which belong to the other group and are placed on the ground. The winners must knock the knee of the losers with the “angkunh.” “Angkunh” is the name of an inedible fruit seed, which looks like the knee bone.
* 5. “Leak Kanseng”
A game played by a group of children sitting in circle. Someone holding a “kanseng” (Cambodian towel) twisted into a round shape walks around the circle while singing a song. The person walking secretly tries to place the “kanseng” behind one of the children. If that chosen child realizes what is happening, he or she must pick up the “kanseng” and beat the person sitting next to him or her.