Monday, April 25, 2011


     Cambodian New Year (Khmer) or Chaul Chnam Thmey, in the Khmer language, literally "Enter Year New", is the name of the Cambodian holiday that celebrated the New Year.  The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year's day, which usually falls on April 13th or 14th, which is the end of the harvesting season, when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor before the rainy season begins.  Khmer's living abroad may choose to celebrate during a weekend rather than just specifically April 13th through the 15th.  The Khmer New Year coincides with the traditional solar new year in several parts of India, Myanmar and Thailand.
   Cambodians also use Buddhist Era to count the year based on the Buddhist calendar.  For 2011, it is 2555 BE (Buddhist Era).

The Three Day of The New Year

Maha Songkran
   Maha Songkran, derived from Sanskrit Maha Sankranti, is the name of the first day of the new year celebration.  It is the ending of the year and the beginning of a new one.  People dress up and light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines, where the members of each family pay homage to offer thanks for the Buddha's teaching by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three time 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 celebration.  People contribute charity to the less fortunate by helping the poor, servants, homeless, 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 celebration.  Buddhists cleanse the Buddha statues and their elders with perfumed water.  Bathing the Buddha images is the symbol that water will be needed for all kinds of plants and lives.  It is also thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life.  By bathing their grandparents and parents, children can obtain from them, best wishes and good advice for the future.

New Years Customs

   In temples, people erect a sand hillock or temple grounds.  They mound up a big pointed hill of sand or dome in the center which represents sakyamuni satya, the stupa at Tavatimsa, where the Buddha's hair and diadem are buried.  The big stupa is surrounded by four small ones, which represent the stupas of the Buddha's favorite disciple:  Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, and Maha Kassapa.  There is another tradition....pouring water or liquid plaster (a mixture of water with some chalk powder) on someone.
   The Khmer New Year is also a time to prepare special dishes.  One of these is a "kralan", a cake made from steamed rice mixed with beans or peas, grated coconut and coconut milk.  The mixture is stuffed inside a bamboo stick and slowly roasted.

Khmer Games

   Cambodia is home to a variety of games played to transform the dull days into memorable occasions.  These games are similar to those played at Manipur, a north eastern state in India.  Throughout the Khmer New Year, street corners often are crowded with friends and families enjoying a break from routine, filling their free time with dancing and games.  Typically, Khmer games help maintain one's mental and physical dexterity.  The body's blood pressure, muscle system and brain are challenged and strengthened for fun.
   A game played by throwing and catching a ball with one hand while trying to catch an increasing number of sticks with the other hand.  Usually, pens or chopsticks are used as the sticks to be caught.

Chol Chhoung
   A game played especially on the first nightfall of the Khmer Yew Year by two groups of boys and girls.  Ten or twenty people comprise each group, standing in two rows opposite each other.  One group throws the "chhoung" to the other group.  When it is caught, it will be rapidly thrown back to the first group.  If someone is hit by the "chhoung," the whole group must dance to get the "chhoung" back while the other group sings.

Chab Kon Kleng
   A game played by imitating a hen as she protects her chicks from a crow.  Adults typically play this game on the night of the first New Year's Day.  Participants usually appoint a strong player to play the hen who protects "her" chicks, while another person is picked to be the "crow".  While both sides sing a song of bargaining, the crow tries to catch as many chicks as possible as they hide behind the hen.

Bos Angkunh  
    A game played by two groups ob boys and girls.  Each group throws their won "angkunh" to hit the master "angkunhs", which belong to the other group and are placed on the ground.  The winners must knock the knees of the losers with the "angkunh".  "Angkunh" is also the name of an inedible fruit seed, which looks like a knee bone.

Leak Kanseng
   A game  played by a group of children sitting in a circle.  Someone holding a "kanseng" (Cambodian towel) that is twisted into a round shape walks around the circle while singing a song.  The person walking secretly tries to place the "kanseng" behind one of the children.  If the chosen child realizes what is happening, he or she must pick up the "kanseng"

Bay Khon
   A game played by two children in rural or urban areas during their leisure time.  Ten holes are dug in the shape of an oval into a board in the ground.  The game is played with 42 small beads, stones or fruit seeds.  Before starting the game, five beads are put into each of the two holes located at the tip of the board.  Four beads are placed in each of the remaining eight holes.  The first player takes all the heads from any hole and drops them one by one in the other holes.  He or she must repeat this process until they have dropped the last bead into a hole that lies besides any empty one.  Then they must take all the beads in the hole that follows the empty one.  At this point, the second player may have his turn.  The games ends when all the holes are empty.  The player with the greatest number of beads wins the game.  It is possibly similar to congkak.

Klah Klok
   A game played by Cambodians of all ages.  It is a gambling game that is fun for all ages involving a mat and some dice.  You put money on the object that you believe the person rolling the dice (which is usually shaken in a type of bowl) and you wait.  If the objects face up on the dice are the same as the objects you put money on, you double it.  If there are two of yours, you triple, and so on.


   Children look forward to Spring and the arrival of the Easter bunny.  Easter signifies the warm weather is coming, is the first big holiday since Christmas and who doesn't like jelly beans and chocolate bunnies?  There are sever theories and legends around where the tradition of the Easter bunny began and how colored eggs became a part of it.
   Once theory, according to Wikipedia, is that the Easter bunny  or "Osterhause" as it is called in German, first originated in Western German cultures where it had traveled from the Upper Rhineland during the Holy Roman Empire.  German children would leave their caps and bonnets out where the rabbit could find them and make a nest to leave brightly colored eggs.  This tradition crossed the seas to the American colonies, where all children picked up the custom and started to observe it.  The bright colored  "Easter grass" we see in baskets today is a throw back to this custom.

   Since birds lay eggs in the Spring and rabbits give birth to large litters in the Spring, the egg became a symbol of Spring and fertility.  Who better to deliver it than a new bunny?  The coloring became symbolic of all the colors of Spring flowers.  However, the Eastern Orthodox Church only dyes its eggs red to represent the blood shed by Christ as he was crucified.
   For those who celebrate Easter as a lunar holiday rather than a religious one, the origins go back to the fast that Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after Spring Equinox.  Easter gets its name from the goddess of Spring, Eostre (pronounced Estra).  She is the goddess of fertility and also was said to have always traveled with a companion, a white rabbit.  Legend says she gave the rabbit the ability to lay brightly colored eggs once a year, in the Spring, and from this came our Easter eggs.  This legend also appears in German folklore where they say she became angry with the rabbit and cast him into the heavens where he remains as the constellation Lepus the Hare, which is located at the feet of Orion.

   There are many legends relating the full moon, fertility and the rabbit.  The Chinese believe that rabbits, like the moon, can change their sex.  Often in Chinese symbols there will be a rabbit leaping across the face of the moon.  This is a fertility symbol.  Since Spring is the time of birth and fertility of the land, the moon and rabbits are associated with it.