2024 Cambodian New Year: Celebrations of Khmer New Year in Cambodia
Cambodian New Year Performance
Known as Chol Chnam Thmey in Khmer, the Khmer New Year is the most important event in the Cambodian calendar and happens in April every year. The name Chol Chnam Thmey literally means "Enter New Year" and is a time for celebration and rejoicing that another year is about to begin.
The New Year for 2024 is from April 13 to April 16, the traditional four-day celebration of this monumental event. In Cambodia, the New Year holiday lasts for four whole days, and all work is stopped for the event as people return to their hometowns and communities to celebrate with their families.
Why Do Khmer Celebrate the New Year?
A girl in Cambodia is praying
The Khmer New Year is one of the most significant holidays celebrated in Cambodia. It is a time when families come together to celebrate the new year and honor their ancestors. The Khmer people believe the new year brings new opportunities, new beginnings, and good luck. They celebrate the new year to thank the gods and ask for blessings for the year ahead.
Historically, the Khmer New Year was held in November or early December, and it was this way right up until the 13th century when the Khmer King moved the celebrations to coincide with the end of the harvest season in the Khmer Empire.
While it is not strictly a religious festival, many Cambodian Buddhists visit the temples around the country to pray during the celebrations of New Year, asking the gods for a prosperous year ahead. Except the New Year, Cambodia has always been a country with profound and bewitching culture. Click here to learn more about Cambodia Historical Tour.
When Is the Cambodian New Year 2024?
Cambodian New Year, also known as Chol Chnam Thmey, is celebrated from April 13 to April 16. The holiday is based on the Khmer lunar calendar, which differs from the Gregorian calendar used in the Western world.
Traditionally, the New Year celebrations do not follow the lunar calendar that the rest of Cambodia uses but are on a set date in the Gregorian calendar to ensure that the celebrations happen every year simultaneously. Khmer New Year is celebrated at the same time as the New Year in other Buddhist countries, such as Thailand and Myanmar.
What Are the Khmer New Year's Traditions?
Monks and Buddas
"Maha Songkran," which means "Great Annual Festival." It marks the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year. This is when Cambodians clean their homes and prepare food offerings for blessings by the monks in their local temples and pagodas. It is also a critical time for those looking for a spouse or life partner, as this is traditionally the only day for men and women to mingle.
"Virak Wanabat," which means "Day of Remembrance." It is set aside for families to visit temples and pay respect to their ancestors. People sometimes give donations to those that are poorer than themselves as a way of earning merit for their journey toward enlightenment.
"Tngai Leang Saka," which means "Clear Water Festival." It is when people traditionally splash water on each other to bring good luck and prosperity for the new year. They also wash the elders and revered lamas in the temples, asking them for their forgiveness for any mistakes they may have made in the previous year.
Where Can I Celebrate Cambodian New Year?
Cambodian New Year is celebrated throughout Cambodia, but some of the biggest celebrations occur in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Battambang. These cities have extensive public festivities, including parades, traditional dances, and music performances.
Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
In Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, the Royal Palace is the center of the celebrations. The palace is decorated with lights, and people gather to watch fireworks. The streets around the castle are filled with food vendors selling traditional Cambodian dishes and souvenirs. And the best site to visit at New Year is Wat Phnom, the Cambodian capital's main temple.
Thousands of local people gather there to pray, offer donations, and participate in the many games and activities covering the celebrations. The games also include throwing water and chalk powder at each other, which can sometimes become a mess of colored powders and wet people.
Much of Phnom Penh and the larger cities in Cambodia treat the New Year celebrations like a western New Year, with parties and festivities in many of the bars, restaurants, and hotels within the city, and include a typical countdown to the New Year. More like a western New Year than a traditional Khmer celebration. The fun lasts three days, but moving from the cities to smaller towns and villages is a much better option if you like the more conventional idea.
The Angkor Sankranta Event in Siem Reap
In Siem Reap, near the famous Angkor Wat temple complex, the celebrations occur in the town center. The town center is decorated with lights, with performances by traditional dance troupes and music groups. There are street fairs where visitors can buy local crafts and try conventional Cambodian food.
The traditional New Year celebrations coincide with another local event, the Angkor Sankranta. With its location close to the Angkor Archaeological Park temple complex, Siem Reap takes advantage of the festivities, making it one of the top places to be at New Year in Cambodia.
The Angkor Sankranta is a new year festival organized by the region's youth, attracting around 1.8 million visitors to the area during the three days of the New Year.
Boat Race along the Sangker River
In Battambang, a city in northwest Cambodia, the celebrations occur along the Sangker River. There are boat races, street fairs, and cultural performances. Visitors can also visit the local temples and pagodas, where there are traditional ceremonies and blessings.
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How Do the Khmer Celebrate Cambodian New Year?
Nightlife on the Pub Street in Siem Reap
The Khmer people celebrate Cambodian New Year in a variety of ways. One of the essential customs is to clean and decorate their homes. They believe that cleaning their homes will remove bad luck from the previous year and bring good luck for the New Year. They also decorate their homes with flowers and lights to welcome the New Year.
Another important custom is to visit temples and pagodas to pay respect to their ancestors. The Khmer people offer their ancestors food, fruit, and incense as a sign of respect and to ask for blessings for the New Year. They also listen to the monks' teachings and donate to the temple.
Cambodian Dance Travel Show
During the festival, there are also traditional dances and music performances. The most popular dance is the Apsara dance, a traditional Khmer dance that dates back to the Angkor era. The dance is performed by women and tells stories of love, war, and religion. There are also music performances, including traditional Khmer instruments such as the chhing, a small cymbal, and the skor thom, a large drum.
The water festival is one of the most fun and popular customs during the Cambodian New Year. People splash water on each other as a symbol of good luck and to wash away any bad luck from the previous year. Children especially love this custom and can be seen running around with buckets of water, water guns, and hoses.
Khmer Cuisine: Kampot Pepper Crab
Food is also an important part of the celebration. Families gather to prepare traditional Cambodian dishes such as somlaw machou kroeung sach ko, a sour soup made with fish, and num banh chok, a dish made with rice noodles and fish curry. Street vendors also sell traditional Cambodian snacks such as grilled bananas and sweet coconut milk pancakes.
To Sum Up
Cambodian New Year is a time of celebration, reflection, and gratitude. It is a time when families come together to honor their ancestors, give thanks to the gods, and ask for blessings for the year ahead.
The festival is celebrated with traditional dances, music performances, and delicious food. The water festival is also a fun and popular custom that brings people together and symbolizes the washing away of bad luck.
If you are planning to visit Cambodia in April, be sure to join in on the festivities and experience the vibrant and colorful culture of the Khmer people during the Cambodian New Year. And make sure you know the dos and dont's in Cambodia so that you can show your respect of their culture and tradition.
Whether you celebrate in the capital city of Phnom Penh, the ancient temple city of Siem Reap, or the charming town of Battambang, you will have a memorable and enjoyable experience.
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