Our Khmer New Year

Khmer New Year is a holiday I dread and look forward to in equal measures. I dread it because our neighbour starts celebrating about a week early and plays loud music for about 12 hours straight. I look forward to it because we always go to at least one wat and have a big family dinner or two.

First stop: inside the temple at Wat Samathi

First stop: inside the temple at Wat Samathi

I never really knew why Khmer New Year falls at this time of year. Fortunately, a friend filled me in on Facebook.

It is the end of harvest and it lasts officially 3 days, but 5 days is more common practice. One of the rituals is washing Buddha statues and (grand)parents. That ritual is the origin of the water throwing. Thailand and Laos also celebrate new year (Songkran in Thailand), so it is not a specific “Khmer thing”.

He went on to say that “Bonn Chrot Preah Nangkol (Royal Plowing Ceremony) in May marks the start of the rainy season (or end of dry season).

We often go to more than one wat (temple) over Khmer New Year, but I only went to one this year. It happens to be my favourite wat, Wat Samathi. Wat Samathi (same as Samadhi) is near Ream. I like it because it has a trail around a mountain. After we pay our respects in the temple, the kids fortify themselves with ice cream and we start on the short walk around the mountain.

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

The kids take along a stack of 100 riel notes as offerings along the way. For them, the walk is an opportunity to pay their respects to Buddha and play. They couldn’t resist climbing these tree roots they discovered behind a Buddha statue nestled inside a big rock.

WatSamathi1If you’re in a hurry, you can do the walk in about 10 or 15 minutes, but we took over an hour. The kids found plenty to do and I was content to just enjoy the scenery. Except for the path and the paved areas, they’ve left nature intact and the views are wonderful.

I occasionally go to Wat Samathi just to get out of town. Doing the circuit on a weekday between festivals is wonderful because I’m the only one there. Then I’ll ride out to a restaurant overlooking the water in Ream. It’s a great escape from the city and now I can take a motorbike lane all the way to Ream and not have to worry about getting run off the road by a Lexus or big truck.

Our sojourn was over by about noon. Instead of going home, I took the new road down to Otres and had lunch at Papa Pippo’s. He’s not sure when the bulldozer’s will come (or if), but is continuing as normal until the day arrives. As I enjoyed my meal and the cool sea breezes, Bob Marley’s One Love was playing in the background. It seemed like the perfect song to finish off the day.

I got home at about 2:00 p.m. and had to catch up on some work. Miraculously, the music wasn’t blaring next door. It was a good day.


The roots the kids were climbing are behind this Buddha

Khmer New Year 2015: what’s it all about?

If you’ve ever been to Cambodia at this time of year, you might wonder why Khmer New Year lasts so long. We Westerners go nuts on one night a year, while Cambodians celebrate New Year’s for days. I knew it officially lasted a few days, but in reality carried on for about a week, but that was about all. When the STA posted the following document from the Cambodia Hotel Association on their Facebook page, I finally found out what it was all about.

khmer new year in khmer

Happy Khmer New Year

Chol Chnam Thmey in the Khmer Language, literally ““Enter the New Year”, is the name of the holiday that celebrates the Cambodian new year.

The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year’s Day, most commonly April 13th but sometimes on the 14th in keeping with the lunar calendar. This year is the year of goat, and “Moha Sangkran” of the New Year will begin on April 14. In the Buddhist calendar, it begins the year 2559 BE.

The New Year’s angel of this year is Reaksa Tevy. a daughter of Kabil Moha Prum. Reaksa Tevy wears a lotus flower tucked behind her ear and precious stones around her neck. She drinks blood and carries a trident on her right hand. On her left hand, she carries a bow. Reaksa Tevy rides the horse.

The Three Days of The New Year

Moha 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.

Wanabat 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, and low-income families. Families attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the monastery.

Tanai Lieang  Saka is the name of the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhist 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 prosperity in life. By bathing their grandparents and parents, children can obtain from them best wishes and good advice for the future.

Khmer games

Through-out the Khmer New Year, street corners often are crowded with friends and families enjoying a break from routine, filling their free time dancing and play.

  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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. “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.
  1. “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.
  1.  “Bay Khom”– A game played by two children in rural or urban areas during their free time. Ten holes are dug in the shape of an oval into a board in the ground. The game is played with 42 small beads, stones or fruit seeds. Before starting the game, five beads are put into each of the two holes located at the tip of the board. Four beads are placed in each of the remaining eight holes. The first player takes all the beads from any hole and drops them one by one in the other holes. He or she must repeat this process until they have dropped the last bead into a hole lying beside an empty one. Then they must take all the beads in the hole that follows the empty one. At this point, the second player begins to play. The game ends when all the holes are empty. The player with the greatest number of beads wins the game
  1. “Klah Klok” – A game played by Cambodians of all ages. It is a gambling game that is fun for all ages. There is a mat & dice. You put money on the object that you believe the person rolling the dice (which is usually shaken in a bowl type) and you wait. If the objects face up on the dice are the same as the objects you put money on. You double it. If there are two of yours you triple, and so on.