Khmer New Year

The Khmer New Year is one of the most important holidays in Cambodia. Also celebrated in Thailand and other Buddhist countries these days are filled with water throwing at passers-by and other games.

Cambodian New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey in Khmer , literally means "Enter the New Year". The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year's day, which usually falls on April 13th or 14th. This time of the year is the end of the harvesting season. The farmers enjoy the fruits of their harvest and relax before the rainy season begins. The three days of Khmer New Year can be described as follows:

Maha Songkran

Maha Songkran is the name of the first day of the new year's celebration. It is the end 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.

Virak Wanabat

Virak Wanabat is the name of the second day of the new year's celebration. People contribute charity to the less fortunate, help the poor, homeless people, and low-income families. Families attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the monastery.

Tngay Leang Saka

Tngay Leang Saka is the name of the third day of the new year's celebration. Buddhists cleanse the Buddha statues and elders with perfumed water. Bathing the Buddha isymbolizes the people's need for water for all beings. It is also thought to be a kind of deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By bathing their grandparents and parents, children get best wishes and good advice for the future in return. This ceremony is called "Pithi Srang Preah".

The Khmer New Year is fun for visitors. You can join the ceremonies, pay respect to Buddha statues by bathing them, enjoy a drink and a splash with the local population.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It is commonly called "Lunar New Year", because it is based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar. The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar and ends with the Lantern Festival which is on the 15th day.

Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Han Chinese populations (Chinatowns), such as Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia.

-The dates of Chinese New Year in the near future:

Rabbit February 3, 2011
Dragon January 23, 2012
Snake February 10, 2013
Horse January 31, 2014
Sheep February 19, 2015

The Chinese New Year is really a family affair. Families get together and shops close for up to a week. Basically life comes to a standstill for one week around Chinese New Year.

Meak Bochea

Meak Bochea is an important religious festival celebrated by Buddhists in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos on the full moon day of the third lunar month (this usually takes place in February).

Meak Bochea Day is for the veneration of Buddha and his teachings on the full moon day of the third lunar month.
The spiritual goals of that day are: not to commit any kind of sins; to do only good and to purify one's mind.

Meak Bochea is a public holiday in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia - and is an occasion when Buddhists go to the temple to perform merit-making activities.

Bonn Chrott Preah Nangkoal (Royal Ploughing Ceremony)

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony is a unique event that is celebrated to predict future farming conditions, epidemics and weather patterns with regard to farming. Usually celebrated during the month of May in Phnom Penh, this tradition is held at the start of the rice growing season and is also organized to pray for a good harvest. Many Cambodians believe in the traditional rituals and predictions that are given out during the ceremony as a true indication of what the future holds for their harvest and crop productions.

The event lies deeply embedded in the Khmer history and traditions, making it an interesting and special procession to witness. It was first initiated many decades ago by a Khmer king. On the first day of the ceremony, the Brahmans begin feasting at the 5 decorated and colorful canopies that are set up at different compass points. At the end of this feasting, it is the King who initiates the ploughing as an indication for the people to enjoy a favorable year of farming. The procession is led out by traditional and rhythmic music known as Bot Kim. A highlight of the event that visitors will definitely enjoy watching is when a pair of sacred oxen is brought out to lead in the predictions of what the year holds for farming. The oxen first plough the ceremonial ground into which the Brahmins sow seed. Afterwards, the sacred oxen are then led to a place where plates of rice, corn, soy beans, sesame, fresh-cut grass, water and wine are offered to them. Depending upon what they bountifully eat, prefer, sniff and refuse, the predictions are made by the Brahmans for the farming year to come.

Visakha Bochea(Bonn Pchum Ben)

Bonn Pchum Ben is the festival held for commemorating the spirits of the dead.
The highlight is on the 15th day of the increasing moon during the tenth month of the Khmer calendar called Pheaktrobotr.

The dates of this festival in 2010 are October 7th, 8th and 9th.

In fact this festival lasts 15 days, each of which is called a day of Kan Ben. A Ben is an offering. The word Ben literally means ball of rice; they are offered to the souls of the dead.

During the first 14 days people take turns offering food to the monks of their local pagoda in the hope that their offering will reach the souls of their ancestors and friends by virtue of the monks' sermons.

Rich and poor

The present-day Bens are balls of glutinous rice, cooked in coconut milk and mixed with various ingredients according to local customs. The way a Ben is held also differs slightly from locality to locality. The final day of Pchum Ben is the most important for all followers. On this day at every pagoda around the country, the mass collection of offerings (Bens) is dedicated to the souls of the people's ancestors. If this duty is ignored it is believed that the soul is cursed and will haunt the neglectful descendents for the rest of the year.

In the early morning of the last day of the Pchum Ben Festival, visitors can join the throngs at the pagodas and take photos of local people of all ages in traditional costumes. Especially women wear their best traditional dresses often made of silk, embroidered blouses and scarves. People offer candles and incenses.

Num Onsam and sweet Num Korm (steamed cakes wrapped in banana leaves) are taken to pagodas during the festival to share among all participants. Num Onsam is a kind of cylindrical cake of glutinous rice wrapped around a mixture of pork, salt and other ingredients. Num Korm is shaped like a pyramid and made of rice-flour and filled with a coconut and palm sugar mixture.

Money offered to monks is spent for the construction or renovation of temples and community development projects such as the construction of bridges, schools and tree planting, or as donations to needy families. Khmers believe that fraternal feelings are fostered through the exchange of food like Num Onsam and Num Korm cakes. This ensures that visitors to any pagoda during the Pchum Ben festival will be warmly welcomed and invited to taste these cakes and enjoy the festivities.

Bonn Om Teuk

The annual three-day Water Festival competes with the Khmer New Year for being the most important holiday for Cambodians. The boat races on the Tonle Sap and the carnival atmosphere attract millons of people from all over the country. In Khmer the annual Water Festival is called Bonn Om Toeuk. The Water and Moon Festival ushers the fishing season. It also marks the reversal of the Tonle Sap river's current. Boat races as well as fireworks are held at the river.

The dates of this festival in 2010 are November 20th, 21th and 22th.

More than 400 boats propelled by precision-trained oarsmen take part in the annual boat race, the highlight of the Water Festival or Bonn Om Touk. This is one of the major events in the Kingdom which attracts multitudes of people from various provinces travelling to Phnom Penh.

The Water Festival also marks a unique natural phenomenon - the Tonle Sap river reverses the flow of its current. It is probably the only waterway in the world which flows in opposite directions at different times of the year. From November to May the Tonle Sap river runs into the Mekong just like any other tributary. But with the arrival of the monsoon rains there is such build-up of water in the main stream that excess pours into the Tonle Sap river forcing it to change direction and flow back into the Tonle Sap lake.

The Festival also coincides with the full moon of the Buddhist calendar month of Kadeuk. The Cambodians believe that the full moon is a good omen which promises a bountiful harvest. On this night, especially in the countryside people gather to give thanks to the moon. Special food is prepared for this occasion - fruits, vegetables and fish amok, a uniquely Cambodian speciality. Candles are lit, incense burnt and offerings made. The chief priest lights the candles and as it drips on the banana leaves spread beneath the candles predictions are made. It is said that the shape of the melted wax on the banana leaves dictates the state of the future harvest for the year.

It is not surprising that the city takes on a carnival atmosphere during this period. Open-air live concerts are held, food stalls sell a variety of local specialities and children as well as adults take rides on ferries. Colourful buntings and banners adorn government buildings and as night falls the Royal Palace is brightly lit with colourful lights. Brilliant fireworks illuminate the night sky and flotillas, outlined by lights, glide gracefully down the river.

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