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Khmer New Year: Exciting, Enthusiastic and Expensive

By: Loralie Young Posted: April-09-2008 in
Loralie Young

Perhaps you've already noticed the pre-holiday excitement building as Khmer New Year steadily approaches.

Looking down any street, you may see two or three vong or circles of people dancing, playing games, or simply enjoying the cooled night air. Khmer New Year is the largest holiday in the country, during which public schools take off at least two weeks, international schools one week, and businesses about three to five days.

The main markets are usually closed during the three most important days of the holiday (this year falling on April 14, 15 and 16) making it necessary to either stockpile or visit Lucky Supermarket, which thankfully stays open.

The Khmer New Year is a holiday focused on family, as Christmas is in Western culture. During this time, Khmer people return to their homes in the villages to be reunited with all of their relatives.

Going to the temple is an important part of the religious celebration, though the routine changes according to each family's traditions. The entire family will bring food to the temple to sine or give as an offering. Then, after many families have gathered with their offerings, they sit in the temple and feast on all of the food, enjoying fellowship.

Paying respect to dead ancestors is also an important custom. Many offer fruit, candy, even cigarettes, and burn incense in front of pictures of their ancestors.

Some villages celebrate a more subdued New Year's, whereas others have weeklong parties with little or no sleep. Khmer people enjoy playing the traditional games of boh angoin or throw the angoin seed; siy - a game similar to western hackeysack, only using a contraption made of fish scales and feathers. Another particularly hilarious game is where everyone forms a circle around two people in the middle, one of whom has a pot and stick, the other is blindfolded. One then bangs the pot, taunting the blindfolded person, who tries to catch him.

Khmer people also love to dance, and Khmer New Year offers the opportunity to dance until dawn. Traditional dance is performed in a circle around a table. As rice and palm wine flows, the circle deteriorates into a mass of happy drunken people.

Because people go back to their "homelands" for Khmer New Year, very few stay in Phnom Penh. This can be a nice respite for those living here long-term. Traffic is generally less chaotic, and the people who are here are content to stay at home, though that trend is changing as malls like Sorya, Sovanna, and Paragon offer cooled, trendy places to dar leng or walk around for fun.

Prices usually spike just before Khmer New Year, and sometimes it seems they never come down. Taxis, tuk-tuks, motos and the like will all charge up to double the usual price.

Businesses that stay open will generally have holiday prices as well. Workmen are hard to find and expensive, so if anything breaks or needs fixing, wait until after Khmer New Year is over. Use this time to take a break and enjoy the quieter atmosphere.

Most importantly, remember to enjoy this holiday with love, peace, and happiness.

Sua Sdey Chnaam Thmei! Happy New Year!


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