Khmer New Year is one of the most important, popular, and exciting festivals in Cambodia. It is a special time for visiting relatives and friends, taking special foods delicately prepared for the occasion to the Monastery (Watt) and attending Buddhist ceremonies, in the hope that, the wholesome deeds (Kusala-kamma) will benefit the ancestors and dead relatives (Peta-jana) through donation offered to the Saṅgha (monks); and also the time for enjoying Classic & Folk performances, Khmer popular games, and other traditional festivities. In Cambodia, Khmer New Year is usually celebrated in the second week of April, and it lasts for three consecutive days bearing with each different names and its own ritual significances:
Day 1: Mahā Sangkrān (មហាសង្ក្រាន្ត): The first day is celebrated as a welcome to the New Angels of the year. People clean their houses and altars, and some help cleaning and decorating their local temples preparing to welcome lay-devotees and guest from all places. In the evening, Buddhist followers gather in the temple to join the Buddhist rituals which include: paying homage to the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha), observing Five Precepts (Pañca-Sīla), and listen to the monk-chanting (Paritta: protection discourses) then end the evening session with Dhamma talk (Dhamma-desanā) by the monk.
Day 2: Vearak Vanabot (វារៈវ័នបត): The second day is a day for remembering one’s elders and grateful persons, both living and departed. Children bring offerings like new clothes, foods, presents, money, and so on to donate to their parents, grandparents, and their grateful ones. They also give charity to the poor and the needy. In the morning from around 8:00 – 11:00 AM, people prepare food and donation to the temple. Significantly, people honor their ancestors through a ceremony called “Bangskol” in which foods and other materials are brought to offer to the monks directly by their hands, and the monks usually give blessing through chanting then follow by the close recitation of Ācārya (Archar), the one who leads the lay-devotees to dedicate merit to their deceased ones. Afterward, people take the rice to offer into the monks’ bowls that has been prepared on the table, and this is called “Rab Bart”. During the Rab Bart, people direct their good volition through this donation to their departed relatives wishing them to be happy and liberated from suffering. After the monk, people enjoy the meal together happily. In addition, sand-stupa (Vālika-Cetiya) is also built in the temple as a remembrance of Cūlāmaṇī sacred shrine of the Buddha in the Tāvatiṃsa realm—the second heavenly abode.
Day 3: Vearak Leung Sak (វារៈឡើងស័ក): The Third and final day is the first day of the new year. On this day, the stupas built by the people in the temples are blessed. Devotees bathe Buddha statues in the temple in a ceremony called “Pithī Srang Preah”; they also ritually bathe/wash elders and monks with perfumed holy water and ask them for forgiveness for any mistakes made during the year. People enjoy doing such various meritorious actions together in the temple as well as in their communities hoping that their lives will be blessed with peace and happiness.
In the country like USA where people have tight schedules, the temples usually celebrate Khmer New Year only on the weekends. As always, we observe that during these days our people wear beautiful Khmer traditional outfits and cook traditional foods and cakes and then gather to the temple. Khmer New Year is symbol of unity and contribution. It is a Khmer traditional festival; however, it is mingled with Buddhism since Khmer people strongly embraced Buddhist practices to their daily life. The Buddhist rites and rituals can be found in this festival like: Paying homage to the Triple Gem, Observing Five Precepts, Bangskol, Rab Bart, Offering of four requisites to the monks, Paritta chanting, Dhamma Talk, and Bathing of Buddha statues etc.