Khmer (Cambodian) New Year

The Cambodian New Year, or Bun Choul Chhnam Khmerin Khmer, celebrates the traditional Lunar New Year. The holiday falls on either the 13th or 14th of April depending on the order of an ancient horoscope reading called “Maha Sangkran.” This year it falls on the 14th. The celebration takes place over the course of three days:

Day One (4/14) “Moha Sangkran”: The first day is the inauguration of the new angel who comes to take care of the earth. Cambodians dress in fine clothes, travel to family shrines with lit candles and incense, and thank Buddha for his teachings by bowing to the ground to his image three consecutive times. To bring good luck on this day, the Khmer wash their faces with holy water in the morning, wash their chests at noontime, and wash their feet just before going to sleep.

Day Two (4/15) “Wanabot”: On the second day, people offer presents to elder relatives. Great attention is also given to helping the poor through charity. A special dedication ceremony to family ancestors is also attended at a monastery.

Day Three (4/16) “Leung Sak”: The third and final day starts the New Year circle. Images of Buddha are washed in a mixture of water and perfume, which is meant to symbolize the washing away of evil deeds. The elders are also washed in this way; doing this is thought to bring good luck, happiness, and long life. Good advice is also sought upon washing parents and grandparents in this manner.

GSC Volunteer Participant Kathryn C. at a Buddhist monastery. pc: Kathryn C.

GSC Volunteer Participant Kathryn C. at a Buddhist monastery. pc: Kathryn C.

Statue at Ankor adorned with incense and other items. pc: Anna W.Y.

Statue at Ankor adorned with incense and other items. pc: Anna W.Y.

Some Khmer New Year customs include:

  • Erecting a sandy mound on the grounds of a temple. The mound is formed so as to represent the Buddha in the center and his four favorite disciples all around him.
  • Among many special foods prepared this time of year is kralan, a cake of steamed rice, coconut, coconut milk, beans, and peas. It is pressed inside a hollow stick of bamboo and slow-roasted over a fire.
  • Numerous games are played, both by children and adults. Street corners are crowded with people dancing and playing these games, and passers-by often have water thrown at them. (Sources: publicholidays.asia/cambodia/khmer-new-year/ and https://www.makingiteasycambodia.com/our-updates/basic-facts-about-khmer-new-year)
The World Heritage site at Ankor Wat in Siem Reap becomes even more busy than usual during the New Year celebrations. pc: Anna W.Y.

The World Heritage site at Ankor Wat in Siem Reap becomes even more busy than usual during the New Year celebrations. pc: Anna W.Y.

Buddhist temple. Pc: Ben C.

Buddhist temple. pc: Ben C.

Khmer New Year is a widely celebrated holiday and one of the most important festivals in Cambodia. Most Cambodians take work and school off and many businesses close so everyone can celebrate with their families. The Provinces are generally busier than the city as people travel to their hometowns.

Being in-country while the festival takes place is a great cultural immersion experience for our volunteers. This year we have two volunteers who will be able to celebrate alongside their Cambodian counterparts and hosts.

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