Mary lives in Cambodia, a few months each year, working on education projects.
Bon Chaul Chhnam Thmei in Cambodia
Have you ever celebrated new year in April? Cambodia's Khmer celebrate New Year not on January 1 as in the western world or on assorted dates in February as do the Chinese and Vietnamese.
Khmer New Year 2018
With their families, the Khmer gather together at their altar to welcome the Khmer New Year Angel. This year, 2018, the New year Angel will come on Saturday, 14 April. The 2018 new year angel is the Saturday angel, Mahouteria Tevi, the 7th daughter of Kabil Moha Prum.
Days before, everyone is outfitted, the house is buffed at every corner and food is prepared most especially the favourite of the year's new year angel.
The 2017 Angel is Kemerea Tevi, the sixth daughter of Kabil Moha Prum. With a sword in her right hand and a zither on her left, she rides her favourite water buffalo and Khmer families welcome her with her favourite food, bananas.
The New Year Angel is received with their favourite food and drink as specified in the Buddhist published instructions for the year's celebration. Then, the families go to the Wat or Temple and there, celebrate together with the community in dances, games and songs.
For visitors, this is a great chance to come to Cambodia and catch local folks in the act of being themselves!
Baysei in Wat Lanka
Preparing for Khmer New Year
I was really lucky to have been in Cambodia for Khmer New Year. Weeks before the celebration, I can't help but feel the excitement in the air. The Khmer get busy cleaning the house and preparing the offering to the New Year Angel. Those who are in Phnom Penh plan their trips home to be with the family.
Buddhist Khmer families prepare a table where they put candles, incense, bottles of perfume, pop rice, a pair of 5 Baysei prumbountnak (a ceremonial ornament made from banana trunk with 9 layers), a pair of Baysei prumpitnak (7 layers) and prumtnak (five layers), cigarettes, flowers and fruits to offer to the New Year Angel who will be visiting. Nowadays, these Baysei are already manufactured.
Then, when the time designated for the arrival of the New Year Angel comes, the family gathers around these offerings to pray for happiness, health and prosperity for the new year.
Cambodians Get Busy to Satisfy the Khmer New Year Angel
Khmer celebrate with their families in their home province
Everyone is excited as the women get the decorations and the food mandated in the Moha Songkran, the Buddhist guide book for Khmer New Year. The Khmer New Year Angel must have the things she likes.
Days before the celebration, the Khmer exodus starts.This exodus from Phnom Penh continues until the day before the new year celebration. They all go bringing gifts to their home province to celebrate the new year with their families.
Some people from Phnom Penh close their shops early or leave work early to go to the provinces. Sometimes, they close down for a week. The Phnom Penh police are getting ready for this exodus as they will have to help ease traffic jams and stop burglaries as Phnom Penh families leave their homes empty.
Temple as the Centre of Khmer New Year Celebration
Let's hear from those who have been to Khmer New Year
Khmer New Year: A Three Day Celebration
This New Year celebration is for 3 days, three considered by the Khmer to be an auspicious number. For this year, 2018, the celebration starts from 14 April - 16 April.
Each day has a distinct name to express the ritual being followed: the first day being Maha Songkran, the second day, Virak Wanabat and the third, Thngay Leang Saka. Each one takes energy and family team activity, like ramping up to Christmas.
Days before the Chaul Chnam Thmey, Cambodian Khmer get busy. They clean the house, every corner of it. The angel may check! They prepare special food and buy new clothes. Even the husband gets a polishing and grandma a decent dusting at least. Everything has to be spic and span for the visit of the New Year Angel and with the kids, you've got it, she knows who has been naughty or nice.
Khmer New Year Blessing
Moha Songkran: First Day of Khmer New Year
Moha Songkran, the first day of the Khmer New Year celebration, marks the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. People wake up early, primp up in their new finery, light candles and burn incense sticks in the house shrines to the family spirits. The special table is ready to welcome the new angel with fresh fruits, flowers and all the other things required. Members of each family do the needful and offer thanks to Buddha. As the small prayer houses are often by the front steps of the houses or the entrance to the small businesses, you can see whole families bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times before Buddha's image.
Then, they go to the temple to get the monks blessings for the new year. The temples organize games and songs and dances which all pass on the Khmer New Year tradition to the succeeding generation. On the temple grounds, Khmer also build sand hills with five religious flags, one on top and the others around it. These 5 flags represent the five disciples of Buddha. Recent years brought with it practices like putting powder and splashing water which have now been incorporated in the Khmer New Year celebration.
For good luck, the Khmer also wash their face with holy water in the morning, their bodies at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed. The rituals are observed by most Cambodians, not just the village folk and missing the moment is like stepping on superman's cape. The angel is secretly watching!
Angels Exchange Ceremony
New Year Angels Exchange Ceremony - Pithy Pter Domnaegn
This video shows the exchange ceremony between the new angel and the old one. The new angel brings back the head of the king-god from the sky where it stays the whole year. She presents this head to the old angel. The old angel then asks the new angel how the journey was and proceeds to tell her all the problems she has to take care of. Then, the old angel brings back to the sky the head of the king-god leaving the new angel to spread blessings to the Khmer families who welcome her to their homes.
Go to the Temple for Khmer New Year
The first Khmer New Year of our stay in Cambodia, we took advantage of the holiday and flew to Myanmar. Little did we know how meaningful this celebration was. Luckily, when we got back, our driver insisted we see a bit of this celebration so he drove us straight to Wat Phnom, one of the oldest wats (temples) in Phnom Penh.
Going to the temple is the most satisfying way to enjoy Khmer New Year. We enjoyed with the Khmer their traditional games, dances and all kinds of plays. Of course, we got some of the powder but because we're older, the young kids asked first before putting some on our face. Be prepared as well for some watersplashed or poured over you. This is more a Thai practice, though. It was quite an experience to be part of the Khmer New Year fun.
If you are not in Cambodia, Khmer communities in other parts of the world celebrate new year there. Go and greet them.