Khmer New Year, or ‘Bon Chol Chhnam Thmei’ in the Khmer language, is the greatest traditional festival and national holiday in Cambodia, and the celebration last for three days. Khmer New year starts on April the 13th, 14th or 15th depending on the ancient horoscope “Maha Sangkran”, 2014 it starts on 14th of April. The majority of the Cambodians are still farmers and Khmer New Year marks the end of the harvest season when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor and relax before the start of the rainy season.
Most of the Phnom Penh residents will pack their bags and get ready to head out to the countryside to celebrate Khmer New Year. Phnom Penh will be left seemingly pretty quite during these days so if you want to experience the celebration you should also pack your bag and head out to any of the villages on the country side.
In the villages the people engage in traditional Khmer games, they paly games such as the Bas Angkunh ‘seed throwing’, Chaol Chhoung ‘twisted-scarf throwing’, Leak Kanséng ‘twisted-scarf hide’ and dance to traditional Khmer songs.
The first day of Khmer new year is called “Maha Sangkran”, Sangkran means movement and refers to that the sun is moving into a new Zodiac sign and Maha means great. Some say that Maha Sangkran means welcome to the new spirits. In the morning the Cambodians will go to the temple and offer food to the monks and receive blessings. During this time the Cambodians clean and decorate their homes and prepare fruits and drinks on a table or in their spirit house to welcome the new spirits. Elderly people like to meditate or pray the Dharma because they believe that any spirit that comes to their home will stay with them throughout the whole year and take care of their family.
The second day is called “Wanabot” and it is the day that they offer gifts to parents, grandparents and elders. In the evening of this day many Cambodians will go to the temple and build a mountain of sand to remember their ancestors who have passed away and have the monks give them blessings of happiness and peace.
The third day is called “Leung Sakk” and this is the first day of the new year. In the morning the Cambodians go to the temple and perform a ceremony where the mountain of sand gets blessed. The last ceremony is called “Pithi Srang Preah” and the purpose of this ceremony is to honor and to give a special cleansing to Buddha Statues, the monks, elders, grandparents and parents. During this ceremony the participators apologize for any mistakes they have made during the last year.
The Khmer New Year is not only a great festival it is also an opportunity to pass on the Cambodian traditions to the next generation.