Time: From the 1st to the 3rd day of Chet month (according to Buddhist calendar, equivalent to the 12th to 15th day of April by solar calendar).
Objects of worship: Welcoming the God of the New Year, Buddha and ancestors.
Characteristics: The traditional Tet (New Year) of the Khmer community, seeing the old year off and welcoming the New Year.
Participator: The Khmer people in the southern provinces.
Khmer people’s new year festival lasts three days and four days in leap years. Each of these days has its own name. Apart from worshipping the Buddha, Khmer people believe that every year the heaven sends a god called Tevoda to the earth to look after human beings and their life. At the end of the year, the god returns to heaven and another one will replace him. Therefore, in the new year’s eve, every family prepares a party, burns incense and lights up lamps in a ceremony to see off the old Tedova and greet the new one. They also pray to this god for good luck.
Khmer people always prepare for the new year ceremony very carefully. They clean and redecorate their house and buy necessary food for the holidays. They stop all farm work, relax and set free their cattle. The three official festival days are held in a joyful and exciting way.
The first day is for the ceremony to receive the great calendar. Moha Sang-Kran is considered a calendar which gives a detailed account of dates and festivals in a year and a forecast of rainfall so the villagers can foresee if they get a good or bad crop that year. On this day, at a selected hour no matter it is in the morning or afternoon, people take a bath and put on their best clothes in anticipation of the new year. They take incense, lamps, flowers and fruits to a pagoda where they do the great calendar-receiving ceremony. At the pagoda, Moha Sang-Kran, put on a red-lacquered, gilded tray, is placed on a palanquin and carried three times round the main sanctuary. This rite is to welcome the new year and wait for omens for a bad or good new year. Then the official ceremony is carried out inside the sanctuary. After that, every participant prays to the Buddha and chant prayers for a happy new year. Young males and females walk out to the pagoda yard and join in fun activities until late at night.
The second day is for the ceremony to offer boiled rice and heap up a sandy mountain. On this day, every Khmer family cooks rice and offers it to Buddhist monks at the pagoda in early morning and at noon. The monks chant prayers to thank those who make the food and bring it to their pagoda and say good luck to them.
On the afternoon the same day, people start to heap up a sandy mountain in search of happiness and luck. They make small mountains looking to eight directions and one in the middle which represent the universe. This custom originates from an age-old legend. It displays people’s aspirations for rain.
The third day is for the ceremony to wash the Buddha’s statue and Buddhist monks. After giving boiled rice to the monks in the morning, they continue to listen to Buddhist teachings. In the afternoon, they burn incense, offer sacrifices and use scented water to wash the statue in order to pay tribute and gratitude to the Buddha. This is also to get rid of the old year’s misfortunes and wish all the best for the new year. The monks do a ceremony to pray for peace in the dead’s souls. After that, the people return to their house and wash the Buddha’s statue at home. They offer dishes, confectionery and fruits to ask for happiness for their parents and grandparents and being forgiven for their mistakes made in the old year.
During these three days, Khmer people go to visit each other and wish good health, good luck and prosperity to each other. They also join in fun activities.
Chol Chnam Thmay festival shows Khmer people’s aspirations, like many others ethnic groups, to forget about the old year’s misfortunes and look for a better new year.