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A Glimpse Into Cambodian New Year Festival

by Lay Vicheka

Cambodia has very long and protracted history and culture. We can see that merriments related to culture are almost uncountable. The Khmer New Year is one of the most important cultural festivities in Cambodia, so it would be of great values to take a little hint into what is Khmer New Year.

Cambodian (Khmer) New Year is celebrated every year in the middle of the month of April. Khmer New Year does not single-mindedly aim at merry-making or bringing entertainment, in fact, it contains much more useful connotations to edify Cambodian people’s mentalities. One of the aims is to refresh the undesirable livelihood in the past, and to enter into a better livelihood in the closely upcoming year. Cambodian people can wish for better lives in the Khmer New Year, if their lives in the past year was good, they wish for the better, and if their past lives were bad, they wish for the better as well. As we can see, the people buy new clothes, clean the houses and Buddhist pagodas and other religious shrines. Moreover, the elderly clergymen advise the disputed parties to resolve and to forget the revenge and reunion as one family during this New Year.

Khmer traditional games that are played during the New Year have their unique meanings, besides the entertainments. All of the game edifies the Cambodian youths, teenagers to consolidate, use intellectual power to overcome the obstacles, empower justice, values of forgiveness, power of love, and other desirable ideologies.

Besides the Khmer traditional games, people always visit their birth-land to prey for the dead ancestors, visit their parents or grandparents (a number of people in Phnom Penh are from the provinces, only a small number of them were born in Phnom Penh and have parents and grandparents in Phnom Penh). It is a nice reunion between relatives; close and distant alike, in the province. Of course, it is fund; having meal among a huge number of people, playing Khmer traditional games together, go sightseeing around the communities surrounded by rice paddies and nature. But sadly, at the end of the merriments, they have to separate to go back to their work.

It is the law of the religion that people have to the pagodas, at least once during the Khmer New Year, otherwise, they will be maliciously wished from their dead ancestors, who are their grandparents, parents, or other close relatives. Food, desserts, and other everyday-use items are brought to the pagoda, and as the people donate those stuffs to the Buddhist monks, the people need to remind themselves the names of their dead ancestors. The things the people donate through the monks, are thought to reach to the hands of the dead ancestors in the hell, the more they donate, the better the dead ancestors will wish for them, and so they are called “the grateful”. We can also see people of all ages like to reunite to play the traditional games in the pagoda, because the pagoda has huge empty area, suitable for the play, and because the pagoda is always crowed, so it makes the play even more exciting.

The Khmer traditional games are: Bose Angkogn, Chaol Choung, traditional Khmer dancing, Leak Kanseng, the ambitious king, Leang Ouk…etc. But I can’t explain these games into English words, because they are complicated to translated into English words, and some words aren’t existed in the English vocabulary. But a small number of people are negatively turning the meanings of the traditional games, but playing especially cards, Ha Poung, etc to gain profits.

The Khmer New Year is always celebrated for three days; 15th, 16th, 17th every the month of April. But recently I notice a brand new game which is “splashing water on each other”. I don’t know whether splashing water on each other is the Khmer traditional game or not.

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The author is a second year student of law at the University of Phnom Penh.

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