Khmer New Year (Khmer: បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី) or Choul Chnam Thmey in the Khmer language, literally “Enter New Year” is the name of the Cambodian holiday that celebrates the traditional Lunar 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. Khmers living abroad may choose to celebrate during a weekend rather than just specifically April 13th through 16th. The Khmer New Year coincides with the traditional solar new year in several parts of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.
Cambodians also use Buddhist Era to count the year based on the Buddhist calendar.
The three days of the new year
Elders cleanse statues of the Buddha with perfumed water.
Tables with offerings of flowers and food to one’s ancestors are commonly set up for the Khmer New Year. Seen here is a Chinese Cambodian ancestor altar.
Maha Sangkran (មហាសង្រ្កាន្ត)
Maha Sangkran, derived from Sanskrit Maha Sangkranta, is the name of the first day of the new year celebration. It is the end 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 teachings by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times 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 Vanabat (វិរ:វ័នបត)
Vireak Vanabat 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 monasteries.
Vearak Loeng Sak (វារៈឡើងស័ក)
T’ngai Loeng Sak in Khmer is the name of the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhists wash the Buddha statues and their elders with perfumed water. Bathing the Buddha images is a symbolic practice to wash bad actions away like water clean dirt from household items. It is also thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By washing their grandparents and parents, the children can obtain from them best wishes and good pieces of advice to live the life for the rest of the year.