CAMBODIAN NEW YEAR IS ONE OF the major celebrations in Cambodian culture. It is based on the lunar calendar, and is celebrated in mid-April at the end of the harvest. It is a time for farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor and relax before the rainy season begins.
Astrologers determine the exact time and date of the celebration by calculating the movement of the lunar calendar for the arrival of the new Tevada (angel). Each Tevada is believed to be escorted by his/her own favorite animal protector, such as the rat, the tiger, or the rabbit. Cambodian spends the entire month of April in preparation for the celebration, cleaning and decorating their houses with clothes. The clean houses and new clothes represent a new beginning. The celebration lasts for three days. During this time, people take off work to spend time visiting families and friends, as well as the temples.
Buddhism plays a major role in many of the celebration’s activities attached to it. Day one calls Maha Sahgrant. It is the entry into the New Year. At the Buddhist temple and at home, Cambodian people gather for a special reception for the arrival of Tevada signaled by the sound of the drum or bell. Throughout the day, people participate in ceremonies of games. One of the activities is building small sand mountains symbolizing the file-peak summit of Mount Meru. Mount Meru is the mythical Hindu mountain that is considered to be the center of the universe and home of the Gods, and is also symbolized by the architecture of Angkor Wat. Each piece of sand that is added to the mountains is believed to produce more health and happiness in people’s lives. During Maha Sahgrant, people also bring food for the monks and pray with them.
Day two is called Vana Bat. It is also time for more praying. This day is the day to show consideration to the elders. Children give gifts to the parents, grandparents and teachers out of respect. It is also time to serve. Cambodians offer charity to less fortunate, participate in service activities, and forgive others for misdeeds that may have been done to them. The people continue to add to their sand mountains.
The final day is called Loeung Sak. On this day, the monks bless the sand mountains. This is also the day for the cleansing of Buddha statues. The people wash their Buddha statues with perfume water. At home, children give bath to their parents. This is thought to be the kind deed that will bring good luck, long life, happiness and progress. The bathing also symbolizes hope for sufficient rainfall for the rice harvest. At this final day, the Cambodian people and government offer a special memory service for memory of fallen compatriots for the defense of the country. In the United States, the Cambodian New Year usually lasts for two days. Many of the same ceremonies and activities are planned for and participated in. Even thousands of miles of the homeland they fled, Cambodian Americans continue to honor and preserve their cultural heritage by sharing it with their children and new friends in the US.