Cambodian New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey is celebrated between April 14 – April 16th with people enjoying a 3 day public holiday designed in order to allow Khmers to celebrate the New Year with family and friends in their home provinces.
Khmer New Year traditionally celebrates the end of the Harvest season and the start of the upcoming Rainy season and as such there are many rituals associated it; from building shrines filled with offerings in the streets, to using water to cleanse and bless everything from Buddha statues to family members by “washing away” bad actions and bad luck. It is also believed that a younger person who washes an elder will receive some of their wisdom – this might explain why I was being so enthusiastically flecked with water by some of my junior staff earlier this week (well at least I’d like to THINK that’s what it was!)
There are specific actions associated with each of the three days of Khmer New Year.
On Day One – known as Moha Songkran – people traditionally clean and decorate their houses in order to brush away any bad luck or unhappiness. They also set up shrines filled with offerings of food, incense and flashing lights in order to ensure that they will be sufficiently “protected” for the upcoming year.
One Day Two – known as Wanabat – people are encouraged to give to the less fortunate as well as presenting gifts to their family and friends (this is one of the reasons that crime tends to spike in the run up to Khmer New Year as people desperately try to find money in order to pay for these lavish gifts. On the other side of the coin, many companies will bring forward the April salary payment so that people have this to rely on instead) Monks blessings are also performed in temples across the country.
On the last day of Khmer New Year – known as Tanai Lieang Saka – the ritualistic washing of Buddha statues will be performed and people will also gather with friends and families to play games and perform traditional dances such as the “Trot” Dance which I was lucky enough to witness earlier in the week. It is a lively dance where a man dresses as a deer trying to enter the village (or the building you are blessing) and is “hunted” by his fellow dancers, performing as “villagers”, who shoot him with a bow and arrow in order to ward off evil and prevent bad luck associated with wild animals entering the village.
This is a time when many local businesses close as people will travel to their home province in order to celebrate with their families. Phnom Penh is practically deserted according to my friends who live there, whilst hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend the celebrations in the Angkor temple complex.