By Lyka Peng & Sophatny Chan, G10
រីករាយចូលឆ្នាំខ្មែរ! Happy Khmer New Year! (Or not.)
This is the first time in history that Cambodians could not celebrate our most beloved holiday. Khmer New Year was never left discarded as just a mere event. It brought everyone together, to participate in traditional activities that have been going on for as long as we can ever remember. Through hot and sunny droughts, parched winds, humid weather or the unexpected rainy days during the usual dry season, the festivities of Khmer New Year would always persevere, no matter the circumstance. Usually, streets would be adorned with colourful decorations, pagodas and temples would be overwhelmed with people, and everyone would be eating, drinking, and dancing the night away. But that is not the case this year.
Due to the avid spread of the Coronavirus or Covid-19, Prime Minister Hun Sen had said to cancel the holiday as a precautionary measure and to avoid the risks of the pandemic, despite low numbers of cases so far. During these four days, everything would resume as normal, which most of us are devastated about.
For those who are new to Cambodia or are missing our annual traditions, here is a list of things that we usually do during the New Years as an introduction to the holiday itself, as well as a sentiment of how things used to be.
1. Visit the Pagoda – Cambodians number one priority is to go visit any pagoda for blessings and to give to the gods. There are many different types of pagodas in Cambodia, one for blessings only, one for Pchum Ben, and another to visit our ancestors. During this occasion we value give and take. To take the time from our lives to give back what Buddha has provided us with, to gain blessings for a better start to a New Year.
2. Play Khmer Traditional Games – Games are essential activities to Khmer New Year, especially for the younger generations. These games include a lot of movement, teambuilding, and most of all, a lot of fun! They usually are seen played at a community square, sidewalks, or even the streets! If you’re lucky, you could even encounter a water pistol game on the streets– mostly to spray your vehicles with cold water. Other games include Leak Kanseng (Hide the Scarf), Teanh Prot (Tug of War), Bos Angkunh (Throwing Angkunh Nuts), and many more.
3. Eat Traditional Food – One of the best moments during this occasion. Everyday, we rarely get to enjoy the many famous khmer traditional dishes, from food to dessert and drinks. For this celebration, we get to eat those khmer traditional dishes with our loved ones, it’s a time where we can pig out. Not only do we get to enjoy the food with our family, we also give food to those who are living on an empty stomach each day in the pagoda and other provinces. To portray love and kindness between citizens.
4. Songkran in Siem Reap – I have to say, this is my favorite event during Khmer New Year. Not only do we get to play games, we get to bond with everyone from Cambodia, there’s no class, levels, or priorities. Every citizen would gather at a province to enjoy each other’s time and have fun. It is called Songkran because it is taken from Buddha, a festival where we shoot each other with water guns and throw powdered paint, making everything colourful, brightening up the new year.
5. Party! – Of course, every great end to a great event must serve a great party. This party can be for just family, a party with the whole neighborhood, or the whole province. It is a way to start the new year with peace with yourself and others. The party can involve anything as well. Mostly, we play more traditional games such as, Bos Ongkunh, Leak Kanseng, or steal the leaf, etc. Overall, we make sure to start the new year filled with happiness.
Although it is sad that this year did not go as we planned, we must all remember that we are fortunate enough to be spending the holiday in the comfort of our own homes. Stay safe!