What Are Khmer New Year Traditions


Khmer New Year, or Choul Chnam Thmey, is one of the most significant holidays in Cambodia, celebrated with grandeur and enthusiasm over three days starting April 13th or 14th each year. This festival marks the end of the harvesting season giving farmers a break from their field work. Here’s an exploration into the heart of these celebrations, which are rich in customs and joyful gatherings.




Day One: Maha Songkran

Maha Songkran is the first day of the New Year celebration, symbolizing the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one. Families prepare by cleaning and decorating their homes with an intention to invite good luck. They place an image of Buddha at the altar and offer dedicated foods such as sticky rice and fruits. One of the most visually captivating practices is the building of sand mounds in temple grounds. Each mound is decorated with colorful flags and flowers, symbolizing the mountains created by gods.

Day Two: Wanabat

Wanabat is the day of charity, where acts of giving and sharing take center stage. It’s a time to help the less fortunate, perform good deeds, and pay homage to elderly relatives by washing their feet with blessed water. This gesture is believed to bring longevity, good luck, and respect from the younger generation. Families also contribute food, home essentials, and financial aid to monks at local temples, reinforcing the spirit of generosity that defines this day.

Day Three: Leang Saka

On Leang Saka, Cambodians engage in water and talcum powder play, which is not just an act of fun but a ceremonial cleansing intended to wash away any bad spirits and misfortune from the past year. People throw water at each other and use fragrant water to clean Buddha statues, which is thought to ensure rain for the coming year’s crops and to bring peace and happiness.

Special Games and Dances

Khmer New Year is also a time for traditional games, dances, and music. Teanh Prot, a traditional Khmer game, is especially popular among young people. Players throw a small ball back and forth, trying to keep it in the air as long as possible. Traditional dances like Romvong and Rom Kbach, in which dancers circle around and perform elegant hand movements, are performed to the enchanting tunes of classical Khmer music.

Food and Festivities

No festival is complete without its unique cuisine, and Khmer New Year is no exception. Families prepare special dishes such as Kralan, a cake made from sticky rice, beans or peas, grated coconut, and coconut milk, cooked in a bamboo tube. Street vendors sell colorful sweets, fruits, and local delicacies, turning the streets into bustling hubs of culinary delight.

Revitalizing Community Ties

The festival of Khmer New Year not only revitalizes the social and cultural life of the community but also strengthens family bonds. It’s a time when many Cambodians return to their home provinces from the cities, transforming the urban migration temporarily back to rural celebration. It’s a vibrant reaffirmation of cultural identity and heritage.

For more insight into the profound impact and spiritual significance of these practices, explore khmer new year traditions.

Khmer New Year encapsulates the harmony of spiritual renewal, familial duties, and joyful celebration. These traditions not only honor the cultural heritage of Cambodia but also foster a sense of unity and joy across the nation, proving that tradition and festivity can coexist beautifully.

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