From the 13th to the 15th of April this year, Cambodia celebrated its New Year, with spectacular celebrations happening all over the country. PEPY Empowering Youth couldn’t let the occasion go by without having our own celebration, but before we get to that, how about a bit of information on Khmer New Year itself?
Khmer New Year (or ‘Choul Chnam Thmey’ – literally, ‘Enter New Year’) coincides with the end of the harvesting season in Cambodia, when farmers enjoy their crops before the rainy season begins. It also falls on the traditional solar New Year that is celebrated in several parts of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.
The three days of Khmer New Year each have their own names, meanings and celebrations. The first day, Maha Songkran, is the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one. To bring in the New Year, people dress up, light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines. Throughout the day, people wash themselves with holy water for good luck: they wash their face in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed. On the second day, Virak Vanabat, it is traditional to make contributions to those less fortunate, and some families attend dedication ceremonies to their ancestors at monasteries. The third and final day is called Vearak Loeng Sak. On this day, Buddhists traditionally wash statues of Buddha and their elders with perfumed water. This symbolizes the washing away of negative actions, and it is thought to bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity.
Khmer New Year is also a time for family and friends, and all across the country people take part in a range of traditional games. The PEPY Empowering Youth team, both staff and students, gathered together at the Baray in Siem Reap on Friday the 8th of April to celebrate the coming of a new year, and to try their hand at some of the traditional Khmer games. These included games such as a tug-of-war, a Khmer twist on an egg and spoon race (with the spoons being held in the mouth, rather than the hand), a watermelon eating contest and a sack race. It was great to see everyone getting involved and having a whale of a time together.
Of course, a party wouldn’t be a party without food and dancing, so the party organizers made sure there was plenty of both! The group enjoyed some delicious local food, all the while accompanied by a soundtrack of both traditional and modern Khmer songs. When it was time to dance, everyone was on their feet and the non-Khmer members of the group were given some lessons in how to dance like a proper Cambodian, with varying degrees of success! The day was finished off by a hot and sandy ride to West Mebon temple, located in the middle of the Baray.
All in all, it was a fantastic celebration. PEPY Empowering Youth would like to wish everyone a wonderful year, filled with happiness, success and good fortune. Sousdey Chnam Thmey!