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Games, Feasts and Friends: The Three Days of Khmer New Year

The Khmer New Year has just passed in Cambodia, following three days of nonstop celebrations from April 13-15th! Let us introduce you to one of Cambodia’s most important holidays, filled with fun and games.

The Khmer Year, known as Chol Chnam Thmay (meaning ‘Enter the New Year’), is based on the solar calendar, arriving soon after the seasons harvest has been collected and stored – an important point to note, as a vast majority of the population is involved in agriculture.

Games

Like we said, this holiday is full of games, some easier than others to replicate at home. A game that can be easily played right here in the UK is Chol Chhoung, commonly enjoyed on the first night of the New Year.

Chol Chhoung is played by two groups of 10 – 20 girls and boys standing opposite each other throwing a ‘chhoung’ (a scarf ball) back and forth – the game changes once someone is hit by the ‘chhoung’, in which case that group is required to dance to get the ball back while the other group sings.

Another game played is Tres, where players must throw and catch a ball with one hand, while the other hand is used to catch as many sticks as possible. Talk about needing good hand-eye coordination!

Traditions and Customs

Every society has its own traditions and the Khmer are no different! Each day of the Cambodian New Year has a different name and corresponding rituals and ceremonies.

Day one is ‘Moha Songkran’ and it welcomes the New Angels of the year. On this day the Khmer clean their homes and prepare food offerings to be blessed by the monks in the pagodas.

Day two, ‘Vanabot’, is all about the elders of the communities, dead and alive. Donations are also made to the poor on this day and ancestors are honoured through the ‘Bang Scole’ ceremony. Heaps of sand called ‘Stupas’ are also made in remembrance of the dead.

The last day of Chol Chnam Thmay is called ‘Thgnai Loeung Sak’ and is officially the first day of the New Year. The ‘Stupas’ that were previously built are blessed and buddha statues are bathed by devotees in the ‘Pithi Srang Preah’ ceremony – these devotees also ask their elders and monks for forgiveness of the past year’s mistakes through a ceremonial washing. Finally, a royal procession occurs to end the New Year celebrations, held in the country’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Food

What would a New Year’s celebration be without mouth-watering food? The Khmer enjoy ‘Kralan’ during this period of celebration, which consists of a cake of steamed rice, coconut, coconut milk, beans, and peas – this is pressed inside of an empty bamboo stick and roasted over a fire. Sounds delicious, and it’s a dish that you’re not likely to get at just any Cambodian or Thai restaurant in Chelmsford.

So where can you enjoy a taste of some of the Cambodian classics? At Banana Tree, of course! We hope all this talk of the Khmer New Year inspires you to head down to Banana Tree and try some of our delicious Indochinese food – our Steamed Fish Amok, a delicious fish fillet soufflé, is the perfect dish to enjoy for a true Cambodian culinary experience!