And why is it celebrated in April?
សួស្តីឆ្នាំថ្មី Sursedey Chnam Thmey! Happy New Year! Finally, 2021 has arrived. This year, there is a lot more hope that people will be vaccinated so international travel can start up again. Until then, my goal is to learn as much as I can about cultures and traditions from around the world while staying safe and healthy at home. To start off the adventures of this new year, I want to transport you to Cambodia to learn more about their unique new year traditions that occur yearly in April. Cambodian New Year is a beautiful celebration which honors the harvest season and brings locals together much like our own calendar new year.
Cambodian New Year, also known as Khmer New Year, began during the great Angkor Empire in the 13th century when the king moved the new year celebration to April. Why April? April is the ideal time for Cambodian people to celebrate because there is a lot less work, a lot more free time and it is right after the major harvest in March. The majority of the Cambodian population are farmers, so food and harvest are also main reasons to celebrate. There are three days that make up this celebration, the first day, Maha Sangkran, the second day, Vanabat, and the last day, Loeng Sak. Each day comes with its own traditions and purposes that surround family, tradition, food, and games.
The first day, Maha Sangkran, is a time to welcome the new angels by cleaning your home and preparing traditional food. The second day, Vanabat, celebrates elders in one’s life as well as the dead, by preparing sand stupas. The last day, Loeng Sak, is the most important part of the new year celebration where Cambodian people go to their Buddhist temple to ask for forgiveness from the monks, wash Buddha statues, and truly commemorate the rebirth and renew aspect of the new year. Throughout these three days of celebration, Cambodian people also take the time to be with family, share food, and play various traditional games like Bas Angkunh (seed throwing,) Chaol Chhoung (twisted-scarf throwing,) and Leak Kanséng (twisted-scarf hide.)
Cambodia is a majority Buddhist country, so visiting during Khmer New Year is the best way to witness the many gorgeous Buddhist temples. Throughout the weekend, people flood the temples and their grounds while bringing all kinds of different offerings. Unique Khmer foods appear during this time, especially traditional Khmer cakes: Num Angsom, Num Kum, and Num Bot. Typical Khmer street food can also be found all over, so if you are visiting Cambodia during their New Year be sure to read up on their local street food. Another key cultural element to the new year is traditional Khmer clothing so that people are ready to visit the temple and watch dance performances or even dance themselves later at night. Khmer dance is integral to the new year celebration and Cambodian culture, to learn even more about this extravagant art form, read our in-depth article here.
Cambodia is not the only country that celebrates the new year in April. Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam all do the same. What is unique about Cambodia’s new year, however, is that it truly is an outstanding celebration which brings together all parts of Cambodian culture and its people. When you travel to Cambodia, highly consider visiting during the new year. If you aren’t able to travel to Cambodia just yet, you can also see if there is a local celebration near you. The Cambodian diaspora can be found all over the world, from Maryland to Paris. So, In 2021, let’s expand our horizons in any way possible, whether that’s by attending a new cultural event, traveling somewhere new, or fostering new friendships. This is a time for celebration.